NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT: MEET BECKY LYNE MASTERSON ; A Lifetime of Caring and Meaning by Calvin Schwartz March 8, 2017
Before I jump into the spotlight verbiage of this article and talk about Becky Lyne Masterson, I just got one of those epiphanies preceded by a wondrous incandescent cerebral light bulb getting turned-on. I need to tell you about the etiology of these spotlight articles; a history lesson of sorts. It makes this article about Becky Lyne more salient and relevant.
Six years ago I met Tara-Jean McDonald Vitale, my co-host now on NJ Discover Live TV Show. Shortly thereafter, she introduced me to NJ Discover, a full service amazing production company nestled here in Monmouth County. Then the two of us went on the road and brought news features, personalities and special places to the world of NJ Discover. Our mantra was quickly illuminated. We would focus our energies and resources on elevating people and places of New Jersey; after all, NJ Discover is all about discovering those aspects of New Jersey which CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and even News 12 can’t begin to devote appropriate time. We can and do. It’s who we are.
There are seven million stories in the naked (city) New Jersey. There are people who give of themselves, are dedicated, driven, motivated and out there, often invisible, beneath the radar but part of the machinery of caring and sharing. It’s easy to interview Meryl Streep, a Senator or a bestselling author. It’s harder to fit into a yellow or pastel submarine and get below the surface to substantive Jersey lives. The people “who do the real living and dying” (a line from “It’s a Wonderful Life”). I had to get that favorite movie in here somehow.
Often in my writing, I bring in aspects of synchronicity, journeys and things meant to be. It’s part of who I am and a very long story. A few weeks ago, I was asked by Laura Madsen, publicist and “a lady in red who writes,” to be an extra in Sean Guess’ new film ‘That’s Life,’ shooting a scene down the Jersey shore. I love the roar of the crowd and smell of greasepaint. A few minutes before the shoot, I met another extra in the film, Becky Lyne. Within a few synchronistic moments, we were talking about mental health, giving back, autism and relevance. Her exuberance and devotion captured me as did that alluring smile. We kept talking. They were shooting in the next room. We kept hearing, “Quiet on the set.” I love that line. But there it all was in that one brief shining moment. I wanted to learn more about her life and work with Developmentally Disabled Adults. Becky was the embodiment of all that NJ Discover Spotlight articles should be; a road on a journey to discover. I asked to interview her.
Cut to America’s Cup on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park on a Saturday morning, two weeks later. Firstly, Becky started working for the MENTOR Network (thementornetwork.com) in January. “The MENTOR Network is a national network of local health and human services providers in 35 states offering an array of quality, community-based services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain and spinal cord injuries and other catastrophic injuries and illnesses; to youth with emotional, behavioral and medically complex challenges, as well as their families; and to elders in need of support.” When I researched MENTOR, I was kind of amazed by all they do, and the fact I’d never really known about them upset me; my lack of awareness. I apologized to Becky for not knowing.
I asked when this passion and need to care for special people began. She absolutely blew me away and totally surprised. “Ever since I was five years old, I’ve been volunteering with my parents at functions with the Elks.” She worked Camp Discovery for ten summers through high school. I was beginning to grasp that all of Becky’s life in caring and helping special people was an event of destiny. I thought of the movie, ‘Heaven Can Wait’ with Warren Beatty. As in the movie, she was destined from the early beginning to give back and care.
She talked about running the Special Children’s Committee at Tom Rivers Elks which gave out three scholarships. Part of her background expertise was also an employment specialist where she would teach and guide through the real world. In 1993 she graduated high school and college in 2009. Then in 2009, 2010, 2011 she taught basic skills Math and Language Arts in the Toms River school district. In September, 2012, they removed the basic skills program from the schools and two weeks later she found out she had cervical cancer and went ahead and beat it. “Once Sandy hit, I stayed busy with collecting donations and helping others even through my own surgeries.” Listening to Becky, for me, was an experience of being Jersey tough, resilience and a belief system that I rarely run into it. I was savoring every moment of our time together.
“I got involved right away in raising money for Sandy relief. We got eight planes of donations and ten trucks as well. The relief center was run by myself, my mom, and one other.” Becky ran the relief center at the Elks until March, 2013. There was a party at the Elks where she met Caregivers of New Jersey and started working with them. “They deal with life plans and life skills. They got a grant and I became Disaster Case Manager where 75% had to have a disability. That was the grant.”
When the grant ended in May, 2013, she went to the Salvation Army in Toms River and did an 18-month gig “advocating for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, in every aspect of getting them back to their “new normal” into a safe, sanitary and secure home and assisted with the completion of county grants and helping them to receive monies through the unmet needs table.”
In January, 2016 she went back to Caregivers and became Support Coordinator. This past July, Becky went to ARC and became an employment specialist. Of course I asked what it all entailed. “I have to help them gain confidence, respect and teach them what the real world is like. All of them are 21 and over and must have a high school degree.” All the while I’m listening to Becky, I’m trying to jump into her shoes. Can I even comprehend the devotion it takes to do this? There are no marching bands, testimonial dinners, or basically anyone out there in Jersey land, including myself, who fathom and grasp this incredible devotion to people who are in need.
Now I really got blown away. In January, Becky started with MENTOR. Talk about unsung heroes. She became program coordinator for a residential house. “What is that,” I asked. “There are four individuals that live there. Two are wheel chair bound and two are ambulatory. There are three houses like this in Ocean County. I run the house. There are three shifts. We manage their lives. Some can’t talk. Some are blind.” I was quiet for a moment, digesting and absorbing. “But there are only four people you care for. There are no big groups, or activities, or softball or parties or lots of aides and helpers. This is serious intensive care. There is no aspect of anything close to fun.”
Becky smiled, understanding my response. “You have to want to work here. It is a colorful world. Yes, there is always something happening. We do go to outings. They leave the house from 9 to 4pm. Go to day programs sometimes with arts and crafts.” What she said was so powerful to me. I have to repeat it again. “You have to want to work here.” Like the folk song from the sixties, this was my reason to believe in the value of epiphanies and why I’m writing an article about Becky Lyne Masterson. This is a discovery for me, meeting this kind of devotion and life’s work. Nearing the end of our time together, she talked about her young daughter and son and how they’ve already expressed to her that when they grow up, they want to be just like her. I smiled thinking all about circles of life and continuity. I also thought about my work with discovery spotlights. Meeting Becky was spotlight right on and extending thanks to my friend, ‘synchronicity in the universe’, for meeting her on a film set.