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The Extraordinary Spirit of Green Chimneys: Connecting Children and Animals to Create Hope

Samuel B. Ross
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    The Extraordinary Spirit of Green Chimneys
    Book Description:

    Green Chimneys is a nationally renowned US nonprofit organization that helps improve the lives of at-risk urban children by incorporating animals and environmental activities into their educational experiences. Founded by Dr. Samuel (Rollo) B. Ross, Jr.,“Green Chimneys Farm for Little Folk” opened its doors in 1948 with just eleven students. The property has since expanded to cover nearly seven hundred fifty acres in New York, and the school now serves almost two hundred students. Recognized as a worldwide leader in animal-assisted therapy and activities, Green Chimneys provides innovative and caring services for children and their families, as well as the animals with which they spend time. It targets its services at restoring emotional well-being and fostering independence. For over sixty years, Ross developed and operated this innovative and experimental year-round school, and he still remains integrally involved. This book recounts his experiences, sharing a lifetime of practical learning and insights to benefit and inspire all those who work with troubled children, and who believe in the healing power of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-182-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Stephen Zawistowski

    There are some men who have great dreams, and we admire them and marvel at their persistence and determination to pursue those dreams. There are others, however, who have a dream so profound that we are not content to simply watch. We want to be a part of that dream. We want to help achieve that dream, and live within it. And, in the rarest of cases, some very special people convince us that the dream is more real and vital than anything that we have ever touched and experienced. The story that follows in these pages is about such...

  2. Chapter I The Beginning
    (pp. 1-18)

    “When did you first have the idea of opening a school?”

    “It was the spring of 1947.”

    It is a clear, crisp day at Green Chimneys, and I am giving a visitor a tour of the campus. We stop in front of the peacocks, which are strutting about, showing off their beautiful plumage.

    “How old were you then?”

    “I was eighteen and a junior in college.”

    “And when did you start the school?”

    “After I convinced my father to buy Green Chimneys Farm.”

    “When was that?”

    “In the fall of ’47 we purchased the property just two months away from...

  3. Chapter II The Fledgling Program
    (pp. 19-34)

    As much as we had our ups and downs with our original farmhands, we had the same ups and downs when we tried hiring local people. Our first housekeeper found our checkbook and wrote herself a check, which the bank cashed.

    However, our luck began to change when Helen Scherer came in to ask for a job. Mama Scherer was one of many Germans who had settled in the nearby Putnam Lake community before the war. There did not seem to be anything she could not do, and she recruited other German women just like her. Together they cooked, baked,...

  4. Chapter III Meeting Children’s Needs Outside the Classroom
    (pp. 35-46)

    Horseback riding and swimming were our campers’ favorite activities. Every morning they greeted their counselors with the cry, “Are we swimming today? Are we riding today?” The answer was, of course, “Yes!”

    Offering horseback riding had always been a part of my plan, and we had horses and ponies from the beginning. That we were able to offer swimming was a stroke of luck. It was only after we bought the farm that we discovered a swimming area on the east branch of the Croton River, which flowed through our property. There was a shallow end that was ideal for...

  5. Chapter IV Children and Animals
    (pp. 47-62)

    When I had instinctively combined a farm and a school in 1948, I intended us to provide much of our own food. We no longer raise our own meat and poultry, however. We do not eat our therapists! I had no idea that we would become internationally known for being pioneers in animal-assisted therapy. That was all to come as we developed and as the world around us saw its benefits too.

    In 2001 when President Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind Act,” this concept also was not new to us at Green Chimneys where we were concerned daily...

  6. Chapter V A Time of Transition
    (pp. 63-78)

    It is interesting what children recall. Over the years, adult alumni have written or called and told me what they remember most. I have to admit that, at first, I expected them to mention the big class trip we all worked so hard to organize, or the class play for which we sewed costumes and rehearsed endlessly. I have learned that the students remember those events, but the things that stand out, that spring to mind first, are often a lot simpler—and unpredictable. A former student called and during the conversation asked me if I still drink coffee milk...

  7. Chapter VI Diversity and Constant Change
    (pp. 79-94)

    In 1948 the population at Green Chimneys was mostly Caucasian. That changed almost immediately, and over the years there was a more diversified population with Asian, Hispanic, and African-American students and staff. During the 1960s there were increased numbers of minority and at-risk students. Today we continue to include children from all backgrounds—privileged, middle-class, and disadvantaged. Attendance for all is tuition-free through payment from individual school districts. Racial issues with children, families, and staff have never been a serious problem.

    The challenge we faced when we first opened is one we continue to face today: having sufficient enrollment to...

  8. Chapter VII Fiscal Challenges, Politics, and Policies
    (pp. 95-110)

    I had planned to build a new dormitory, construct a new classroom building for kindergarten through third grade, and renovate the old one to be used by the administrative staff who was severely hampered by their working conditions. By 1966 administrative staff offices were spread across two buildings with the mimeograph and copy machines in a third; both offices were crowded, and neither had space for the staff to spread out and work on large projects, such as the school newsletter or bulletin; business records were in one office and student records were in another with many floating in between,...

  9. Chapter VIII Our Own Children at Green Chimneys
    (pp. 111-120)

    In June 1969, David, Myra’s and my oldest child, graduated from eighth grade. As any parent knows, your first child’s firsts are momentous occasions, but this event turned out to be particularly poignant.

    As in previous years, I asked my father to lead the graduation ceremony and hand out the diplomas, and he accepted. He had done this every year since 1965 when we held our first eighth grade graduation. He was the school’s longtime benefactor, and I thought he deserved the honor.

    As the students lined up on this June day, however, I realized that this year would be...

  10. Chapter IX Beneficial Alliance
    (pp. 121-130)

    I never met Edwin Gould—he died in 1933—but his legacy greatly influenced my life. When I had approached the Edwin Gould Foundation in 1967 for funding, I thought the Foundation’s goals and ours were sufficiently similar. The Edwin Gould Foundation had been established to promote the welfare of children, and that is certainly what Green Chimneys was about. When I met with Schuyler Meyer initially, he invited me to the Institute on Administration, a two-week workshop that the Foundation was sponsoring in conjunction with the Harvard Business School. That August, a group of Harvard faculty was scheduled to...

  11. Chapter X Establishing a Social Services Agency
    (pp. 131-148)

    In addition to my travels for the Edwin Gould Foundation, I was increasing my travel on behalf of Green Chimneys, often giving speeches on visual literacy and year-round education. I felt strongly about these programs and the potential they held for children. Depression, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, emotional disturbances, neurological impairments—these programs had helped children with a range of problems, and I was anxious that other schools and child care institutions give them a try. They also showed respect for the individuality of the child. Implicit in the adoption of these methods was the understanding that it was up...

  12. Chapter XI No Need For Institutions
    (pp. 149-156)

    I felt very good about our nature-based and academic programs, and in general we had made great strides at Lakeview and at Green Chimneys. I had experienced for years how much good can be accomplished with a group of passionate, creative, caring people, for children with special needs and challenges in an “institutional” setting. We were immersed daily in creating positive experiences and expecting no less than good results for our students. The children we took care of came to us as a last resort. These positive results had not been able to be accomplished for a variety reasons at...

  13. Chapter XII On a Scale of One to Five
    (pp. 157-160)

    If you have ever attended a meeting of professionals representing many disciplines you will immediately recognize that every discipline has its own vocabulary and its own way of describing improvement, lack of improvement, and/or concerns. We found ourselves in need of a way to develop a common vocabulary that would provide a better means of communication in order for each participant to provide information on the child and the family.

    I suggested to the staff that they seek a way of correcting our lack of a universal language and develop a system of ratings that were objective, not subjective. We...

  14. Chapter XIII He Who Has the Gold
    (pp. 161-168)

    We had the GLAS in place, we had our programs in place, and we had learned the ins and outs of completing the many forms the state required. Who would have thought that staying a child care agency would prove more difficult than becoming one? But, in fact, that is what happened. That we were paid slowly and our resulting accumulated debt was just the beginning. Our wherewithal and fortitude were being tested at seemingly every turn.

    In New York, it was up to the Education Department and the Department of Social Services to determine how much we would be...

  15. Chapter XIV Environmental- and Nature-Based Education
    (pp. 169-184)

    By the time I was immersed in Lakeside, I had been reworking the farm and its programs at Green Chimneys. This was to be advantageous to both Green Chimneys and Lakeside. Back in 1970, the farm at Green Chimneys was limping along. We had some animals. We grew a few crops. We had a vegetable garden. Most of the children took to the animals and learned how to feed and care for them; some liked working in the garden or out in the fields. Was that as much as the farm could offer the children? The animals were clearly important...

  16. Chapter XV Traditions as Part of the Fabric
    (pp. 185-192)

    While writing this book, I came across a short article that I had saved called “A Recipe for Boys.” It was written by Robert L. Lamborn in 1964 when he was headmaster of the all boys at McDonogh School in Maryland. The following is an excerpt:

    We must be ourselves what we would most like our children to be…. This is not an easy assignment for us as parents or as teachers…. Only as we demand the best of ourselves—in warmth and interest and enthusiasm, in integrity and honor and … uprightness. Only when we have demanded this of...

  17. Chapter XVI This I Will Never Forget
    (pp. 193-200)

    Certain events I will never forget. There were two children in the first group we served in 1948 who have stayed touch with me. They were a brother and elder sister. A few years ago I heard from the girl who had some personal concerns about which she wanted to speak. In the course of the conversation, she spoke about the two ponies we had when she was at Green Chimneys and wondered if Peaches was still at the farm. I was amazed at what she remembered, and she was amazed that I remembered her and her brother.

    In the...

  18. Chapter XVII International Relations and Rotary
    (pp. 201-206)

    Some of the most heartwarming experiences of the late 1960s were our visits with the children of the Soviet Mission, the Soviet Union’s diplomatic delegation to the United Nations. At the time, almost all members of the United Nations maintained missions in New York City; the missions conducted negotiations on their countries’ behalves. Unlike most delegations, however, the Soviet Union’s and other Iron Curtain countries kept mainly to themselves due to Cold War hostilities. They socialized among themselves and sent their children to schools operated by their own governments. If they wanted to travel more than twenty-five miles from the...

  19. Chapter XVIII Looking Back, It Took Courage
    (pp. 207-220)

    Looking back, I can say that the creation of Green Chimneys took courage. If I were asked today by someone what I was thinking about at the school’s inception, or how one might go about starting a place like Green Chimneys, I might hesitate because I would not be sure what to tell them. I wouldn’t discourage the idea, but I would certainly have to think back to 1947 and ask myself what I needed to know then to make the dream a reality. What would I have liked to know before Green Chimneys was founded? What was lacking in...

  20. Chapter XIX A Personal Note
    (pp. 221-226)

    In spite of all that has transpired over the years, I would do what I have done all over again, only I hope that I would do it better. Hindsight is better than foresight.

    Did it take a toll on my family? Yes, of course it did. One day, when our house was bustling with students, when staff were coming in and out to ask this and that, and Myra had a group of students in our kitchen doing homework, our ten-year-old son, David, looked at me and asked if I would have time for him if he had problems....

  21. Appendix Developing New Programs
    (pp. 227-228)
    Samuel B. Ross Jr.