Byram octogenarian honored with human service award

Mary Jo Mathias cited by Project Self-Sufficiency

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  • Mary Jo Mathias honored for her years of service

  • The Mosaic Awards Ceremony at Project Self-Sufficiency on Feb. 16

By Laurie Gordon

— Mary Jo Mathias, of Byram, is 83 and on the go. She is the former executive director of the Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council and has a full plate of activities for which she volunteers and organizations she helps plus a long list of the names of people whose lives she's touched. In honor of all the work she's done with Project Self-Sufficiency, the non-profit bestowed a special honor upon her last Thursday evening. In recognition of her years of dedication to the community, she was presented a special Human Services Hero Award at Project Self-Suifficiency's annual Mosaic Awards Ceremony.

“It was such a very deep honor,” Mathias said. “It meant so much to me and surprised me a lot.”

Mathias has been involved in Project Self-Sufficiency for many years and helped establish the Mosaic Awards. “To me, the most important thing that Project Self-Sufficiency does is not only to prepare people and give them the skills to move on in their lives but they expect those they help to give back and most of them do. This is very unusual and something great about this organization.” Mathias said she also volunteers to provide musical entertainment at Project Self-Sufficiency events.

The Mosaic Awards evening recognized volunteers and representatives from local businesses and organizations for their outstanding efforts in support of Project Self-Sufficiency and the Sussex County community. Those honored included individuals, schools, civic groups, businesses and non-profit organizations which have provided invaluable assistance to the agency during the previous year.

Project Self-Sufficiency's executive director, Deborah Berry-Toon, said, ““This event recognizes that even the smallest contributions can combine with the efforts of others to have a powerful impact on the community. The lives of thousands of local families have been changed for the better because of the thoughtfulness and generosity of these individuals.”

Of Mathias and her award, Berry-Toon said, “The support provided to Project Self-Sufficiency and many other individuals and local organizations by Mary Jo Mathias throughout the years has been invaluable.”

Mathias is well-known in the area for being the long-time director of the Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council. Mathias is very involved in her church, Saint Kateri's in Sparta, where she also serves as director of the church's Bell Choir. She's a substitute organist, so if an area church needs someone to fill in, she's there. Mathias has also volunteered with the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voter and volunteers at Newton Memorial Hospital every Tuesday morning. She recently joined the Sparta Women's Club and said of the near future, “I want to help local organizations get grants they need.” She is also involved in a book group and scripture study.

Mathias' husband, Chuck Mathias, was also honored for his longstanding support of agency initiatives, for serving on multiple task forces and advisory councils, and for his musical prowess as part of the High Point Harmonizers.

“Mary Jo leads by example and selflessly shares her vision, organizational skills and musical talent wherever it is most needed,” Berry-Toon said. “We are constantly grateful for her generosity of spirit.”

On staying active and involved, Mathias said, “That's the way I am. It's good to be involved and out doing things.”

Numerous awards were given out on Thursday evening, all thanking those who make Project Self-Sufficiency a thriving reality that shines light on the lives of so many people in our community.

Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey. The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children while achieving personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability. Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 25,000 families. For information about the programs and services available at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit

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