About Us

Program Director and Founder

Nicole Monat

Nicole Monat, Founder, President and Trustee of Friends Grow Friends Foundation, Inc., is a stay-at-home mother of three young boys aged 11, 8 and 6.  Her oldest son, Sam, carries diagnoses of High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.  Sam’s treatment began from the age of 16 months, and, throughout this journey, Nicole has been heavily involved in every aspect of Sam’s development.

Her carry-through of therapeutic interventions within the home has been critical to the astounding progress that Sam has made.  While Sam still receives services at home and in school, he is a happy and social little boy who learns in a mainstream classroom with a modest amount of support.

Her vision for Friends Grow Friends Foundation, Inc., comes from the social progress that Sam was able to attain during play dates, when she would have Sam’s behavioral therapist attend and help facilitate Sam’s play dates.  Nicole would like to offer other children this kind of support where they often need it the most — interacting with their peers in scenarios that are typical for all children to experience.  Friends Grow Friends Foundation, Inc. will utilize all that Nicole has learned over the past seven years and give children, both typically and non-typically developing, the opportunity to build stronger social skills and capture the joy of being a child.

Additionally, Nicole has a unique range of skills given her varied work experience prior to becoming a mother.  After receiving her Masters of Business Administration from Columbia Business School (with a concentration in Marketing and Management), Nicole was chosen to participate in Novartis Pharmaceuticals’ prestigious Management Leadership Development Program, and worked in the market research group supporting the Stavelo (Parkinson’s Disease) and Focalin XR (ADHD) brands, as well spending time on the company’s managed care team.

Nicole also was a Product Manager for the immunosuppressive drug Myfortic, which helps protect against organ rejection after transplant.  Prior to business school, Nicole worked as a salestrader for two international banks, Bayerische Hypo- und Vereinsbank and Fortis Bank, in their Syndicated Loan Sales and Trading groups.

Nicole’s strong business background, as well as her extensive and intensive involvement in Sam’s treatment, give her a unique skill set to oversee and run Friends Grow Friends Foundation, Inc.

Clinical Services Supervisor

Kristin Foley, M.Ed, BCBA

Kristin Foley has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) for a decade and has been working with individuals with a range of abilities and disabilities since 1999. Her professional interests lie in designing meaningful measurement systems, training behavior analysts, and supporting families, as well as effective collaboration and fluency-based instruction. She received her Masters of Education from Antioch University, her Masters Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 2008. Kristin is a certified Special Education teacher with more than 3000 hours of direct experience implementing and supervising behavior analytic intervention programs.

Kristin’s experience includes establishing and managing a model preschool for children with Autism and their socially typical peers in Seattle, Washington.  She also served as Preschool Coordinator at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers University.

Kristin is currently an adjunct faculty member at Endicott College where she teaches graduate classes in the areas of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Applied Behavior Analysis. She also maintains a private practice that focuses on supporting individuals with Autism, ADHD, anxiety and related disabilities in their home and school environments.

Kristin has presented her applied work at both the national conferences of the Association for Behavior Analysis and the International Precision Teaching Conference, as well as at Autism New Jersey. She has published her work in the Journal of Precision Teaching and Celeration (JPTC), and is a contributor to the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis. She maintains professional memberships in the Association for Behavior Analysis, the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts, Autism New Jersey, and the Standard Celeration Society.

In addition to being a Clinical Supervisor, Kristin also sits on Friends Grow Friends Foundation, Inc.’s Board of Trustees.




Mike Garra, NCC, LAC

Mike is a graduate from both Pennsylvania State University and Monmouth University. He has a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling and is a Licensed Associate Counselor in New Jersey. Having worked for The Arc of Monmouth County for over seven years, Mike has experience working with a wide variety of individuals and their families. He hopes to continue to pursue his professional aspirations in both individual counseling and career counseling.

Matt Ihnken, RBT

Matt is a Graduate Student at Monmouth University pursuing a Master of Social Work degree.  Currently, Matt is working under the supervision of an LSW and an LCSW at Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Middletown. Matt is also a Registered Behavior Technician and, under the supervision of a BCaBA and BCBA, provides in-home ABA services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. During the Summer months Matt is an Ocean Lifeguard on Long Beach Island and spends most of his time at the beach. In his free time, Matt enjoys meditating, exercising, swimming, surfing, biking, running, exploring, reading, and woodworking. After graduating, Matt seeks to become a School Social Worker and receive his LCSW Certification. Matt also has aspirations in applying Alternative Practices into his professional work and providing services to individuals who have been affected by Traumatic Brain Injury and severe trauma.

Philip Strobel

Philip Strobel is a graduate of Georgian Court University, with a B.A. in Psychology.  Philip is a home-based ABA therapist, and is currently enrolled in the M.S. Ed. Autism/ABA program at Monmouth University, studying to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  Philip’s hobbies include soccer, video games, hanging with loved ones, and his dog Otis.  His favorite part of working with Friends Grow Friends is helping kids form friendships while learning skills that they can utilize out in the world.

Brooke Trotta

Brooke Trotta graduated from Brookdale Community College with her Associates in Psychology, and is currently enrolled in the B.S. Psychology Program at Georgian Court University.  Her ultimate goal is to become a children’s behavioral psychologist.  Brooke has been around children her entire life as her parents own a preschool which nurtured her love for children. Brooke’s hobbies include playing video games, reading, and being with her dog, Sinatra. She chose to work with Friends Grow Friends because of her love of children and hopes to see each child gain the confidence and friends they all deserve. 

Jonna Viggiano

Jonna Viggiano is a special education teacher at the Joseph C. Caruso School in Keansburg. For the last 15 years, she has taught various grade levels such as Kindergarten, second, third, fourth and fifth grades. Jonna’s main objective is to help children reach their fullest potential.

Kendall Wellauer

Kendall is a second-year graduate student at the University of Delaware receiving her masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology. At UD, she is currently providing group speech-language pathology sessions for clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder and individuals in early intervention services. She has previously worked with clients for articulation, aphasia, and transgender voice therapy. Kendall is an instructor as well as FGF’s Operation Manager, and she hopes to carry her clinical skills to the Foundation. 

Lenny Apa

Lenny Apa graduated from Kean University with a Bachelor’s degree in education and English. He is certified to teach both general education and special education. He currently teaches high school English, creative writing and journalism. He is also the advisor for his school’s newspaper, and leads the school diversity club. Aside from teaching, his favorite role in the school is acting as a teacher mentor for students. Lenny enjoys reading, playing video games, and writing. His favorite part of being an educator is building a connection with his students and helping them develop the tools to succeed in life. 

Behavior Specialist

Tom Stevenson

Tom Stevenson graduated from Kean University and spent two years working in Toms River’s Autism Academy as a paraprofessional. Currently, he is studying to become a registered behavior technician while doing in-home therapy under the supervision of a BCBA. His favorite part of his job is developing meaningful, genuine bonds with his clients and seeing how his efforts can help further their development.

In addition to his career in the ABA field, Tom pursues hobbies in creative writing and drawing and is seeking literary representation for a novel he finished in 2018.


Matthew G. Strobel, Psy.D.

Dr. Strobel is a certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist. He is the founder and director of Navesink Psychological Services.

Dr. Strobel received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stockton University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in school psychology from the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) at Rutgers University. While at GSAPP, Dr. Strobel earned a concentration in Psychological and Systems Support for Learning and received the Virginia Bennett Award for exemplary work supporting minority youth. In addition, he studied sport psychology. Dr. Strobel has over 10 years experience working in the public school setting as a school psychologist. He has worked at all levels (preschool through high school) in the school setting and with the entire age range in his private practice.

Dr. Strobel specializes in working with children who exhibit externalizing and internalizing behaviors in a variety of settings. He has worked with children having diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, Asperger’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), conduct disorder, depression, explosive behavior disorder, and intellectual disabilities. He also has experience working with clients who exhibit obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), school refusal, specific learning disorders, Tourette syndrome, and other related disorders.

Dr. Strobel has created highly successful programs that have allowed children with mental health and other needs to remain in their schools, participate with peers in sports and camps, and be successful members of their communities. Dr. Strobel is certified to provide the Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics from the Tourette Syndrome Behavior Therapy Institute (TS-BTI). He is a Lifelines Trainer for the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County which provides training to schools on suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.

Dr. Strobel is also a supervisor for doctoral candidates from Rutgers and often guest lectures on a variety of topics including supporting acting out students in the classroom, youth suicide, and school avoidance.

Kate Gagliano

Dual Certified Elementary and Special Education Teacher
Math, Literacy, Science, Social Studies & Study Skills, Knollwood School, Fair Haven

Jeffrey Monat

Jeffrey Monat, Treasurer and Trustee of Friends Grow Friends Foundation, Inc., received a Bachelor of Science in Economics from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has worked at a number of financial institutions throughout his career.  In 2001, he began his career in the Mergers and Acquisitions department of Goldman Sachs. At Goldman, Jeff helped advise clients on M&A transactions, financial valuation and corporate governance issues. He then worked in the GS Principal Strategies Group, analyzing public-market opportunities for the firm’s proprietary investment fund.

Since his tenure at Goldman Sachs, Jeff has served in an analyst role at Rockbay Capital, where he was also a partner, and FrontPoint Rockbay, an event-driven hedge fund based in New York City. At Rockbay, he evaluated prospective investments and helped build the firm’s investment analysis infrastructure. Jeff has also served as a Senior Analyst at Seven Locks Capital, a long/short equity hedge fund as well as Sage Rock Capital, an event-driven hedge fund based in New York City.  Most recently, Jeff joined Merida Capital, a private equity firm, as a partner where he analyzes and commits the firm’s capital to investments.

Jeff is a Trustee and volunteer for the Brad J Pinkowitz Foundation, which was formed to assist under privileged pre-school and elementary school children with educational toys and school supplies. Additionally, Jeff has first-hand experience with helping to develop the social skills of his son, Sam, who is on the autism spectrum.  When he isn’t working, he is an integral part of Sam’s treatment plan and has dedicated his free time to gaining a thorough understanding of how kids like Sam grow and develop.


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