Nearly 75 years ago, one young man pursued a big dream. The dream of having a school on a farm; a place where animals aren’t just friends, they are teachers. After seven and a half decades and many milestones, Green Chimneys is thriving as a renowned therapeutic education and treatment facility for children with special needs.
The story of Green Chimneys is a long and wonderful adventure starting on October 27, 1947 with the Ross family’s purchase of a 75-acre dairy farm. At just 19 years old, inspired by childhood boarding school experiences and a genuine devotion to animals, Samuel B. “Rollo” Ross, Jr. established an environment where children and animals could live together in a farm setting.
Green Chimneys opened its doors in June 1948 with 11 children ages 3-6. Led by a small staff providing academics, recreation, and a loving environment, the school offered the children the unique experience of interacting with and caring for the animals that also lived there.
The marriage of Sam Ross and Myra Mattes in 1954 cemented a lifelong partnership that played an important role in the growth of Green Chimneys. They both saw from the very beginning the potential to serve children and families in many different ways. The couple became pioneers in the practice of animal-assisted activities as part of a child’s education and emotional well-being. As years went on, the integration of animals and nature grew into a core component of Green Chimneys’ clinical approach, adding a dynamic and beneficial element to its special education and therapeutic treatment programs for children facing social, emotional and behavioral challenges.
Today, Green Chimneys is a premier nonprofit education and human services agency serving thousands of youth and families each year. As a leader in animal-assisted and nature-based practices, Green Chimneys has achieved global recognition in education and advocacy for children with a unique focus on the human-animal connection. This interconnection of human well-being, animal welfare, and environmental stewardship is ingrained in Green Chimneys’ founding principles, and alive in the community of dedicated professionals who work at Green Chimneys, among supporters and partners across the globe, and most importantly, in the children and families we have had the honor to serve.
In 2022, we remain inspired by the legacy of our founders and the magnificent organization they built, and we invite you to join in the celebration of Green Chimneys’ 75th year. We enter this year filled with pride, and pause for reflection, as we continue our mission in helping young people to maximize their full potential by providing residential, educational, clinical and recreational services, in a safe and supportive environment that nurtures connections with their families, the community, animals and nature.
Celebrate with us!
Help sustain Green Chimneys for the next 75 years and ensure the continuance of therapeutic education and nature-based programs for children with special needs. Please give now >
With roots deep in nature-based practices, Green Chimneys has grown to serve thousands of families through education, clinical, and recreational programs. The expanse and longevity of our services also speaks to exceptional leadership, partnerships, and support we have received along the way. We are eternally grateful to our founders, Rollo and Myra Ross, for their lifelong commitment to helping children and animals. And while it’s impossible to list everyone here, we are truly appreciative of the individuals and organizations who share a commitment to therapeutic education and animal-assisted services. Thank you for being a part of Green Chimneys’ past, present, and future! Samuel B. Ross, Jr. & Myra Mattes Ross Founders of Green Chimneys Henry J. and Erna D. Leir The Leir Foundation The Engelstad Foundation Al Marmor Volunteer Paul Kupchok
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Samuel B. Ross, Jr. & Myra Mattes Ross
Founders of Green Chimneys
Henry J. and Erna D. Leir
The Leir Foundation
The Engelstad Foundation
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Green Chimneys property purchased by Ross Family.
Green Chimneys Farm for Little Folk opens with eleven students aged 3-6 years old. Young Samuel Ross leads a small sta to provide academics, recreation, and a loving environment for the children, with the unique experience of interacting with and caring for animals.
Following numerous requests by parents wanting to send a younger sibling, or asking if their child could stay for just one more year, the school expands to include children aged 2-9.
Samuel Ross marries Myra Mattes, a teacher from Danbury, CT, on the grounds of Green Chimneys, building on the strong educational foundation and family atmosphere of the school.
It becomes apparent that the children attending Green Chimneys are in need of a year-round program. Dormitories and a middle school are added to the campus and a summer camp program eliminated to make room for New York State’s first 12-month nonprofit school program.
The farm and riding program opens to the community-at-large as Green Chimneys Farm Center offers public programs and opportunities for students in residence to interact with the outside community.
Hillside Outdoor Education Center is established for year-round adventure programs and summer camp.
Green Chimneys becomes a social services agency and 853 special education school increasing resources for, and public access to, its residential treatment services, and enabling all children to attend tuition-free.
Green Chimneys acquires 40 acres of farm land across from the main campus and creates Boni-Bel Organic Farm.
Nature’s Nursery pre-school opens as a full-day year-round program for 3-5 year olds.
Establishment of The Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Global Internship Program, offering a unique immersion experience for individuals interested in exploring the human-animal bond and nature-based activities to benefit children with special needs.
Gramercy Residence opens in Manhattan as a group residence to prepare troubled youth for independent living. Program later transitions to serving LGBTQ youth.
Farm Center expands with the addition of the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation program.
The Country Store opens at Boni-Bel Farm serving the community with a local farm market and gift shop, and as a vocational program for Green Chimneys students.
Therapeutic Day Program opens, providing a special education day school option for students from local districts.
After serving in a number of agency management roles, including School Principal, Joseph A. Whalen is named Executive Director. Founder Dr. Samuel Ross becomes Managing Director of The Friends of Green Chimneys, overseeing all fund development activities.
Green Chimneys acquires Clearpool, a 100-year-old outdoor education and recreational facility in Carmel, New York and assumes its dynamic environmental/nature program and summer camp.
In recognition of long-standing ties and strong support from Paul Newman’s namesake company and charitable foundation, Green Chimneys names its school complex The Newman’s Own Education Center.
Two most notable additions to the Farm & Wildlife Center arrive a la caravan all the way from California. Bactrian camels Sage and Phoenix are ceremoniously gifted to Green Chimneys by Sacred Camel Gardens, and quickly become beloved members of the farm.
Green Chimneys marks 65 years with the launch of The Sam and Myra Ross Institute, which serves to deepen the legacy, vision and impact of its animal and nature-based programs by demonstrating how purposeful contact with animals and the outdoors can enhance formal therapies and traditional education, and sharing knowledge to bring continued growth and leadership to the field.
Clearpool Model Forest initiates first projects demonstrating best practices in forest management and water conservation, along with educational programming for the public.
Dr. Samuel Ross is presented with the prestigious Andrew Goodman Hidden Heroes Award, recognizing his lifetime humanitarian efforts.
Green Chimneys’ 20-year-old humane education event is refocused and relaunched as the Human-Animal Interaction Conference, highlighting therapeutic practices and research in the integration of animals into treatment.
Three-week-old baby emu arrives and becomes Green Chimneys’ first farm resident to be named by the public via social media voting campaign.
Dog Interaction Program is introduced to provide students opportunities to build important skills as they participate in the training and socialization of shelter dogs, helping to ready them for adoption.
The Institute conducts its first formal research study to test the benefits of animal-assisted interventions by integrating dogs into social skills training for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Green Chimneys awarded $750K from NYS Empire State Development Corporation to assist expansion of the school on the Brewster campus and update Nature’s Nursery.
Animal Interaction Assessment clinical tool is developed by Green Chimneys and made public for practitioners to guide treatment decisions and therapeutic approaches that involve animal-assisted activities.
Summer Camp program recognized by American Camping Association with the Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence.
Joe Whalen receives Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, Mercy College.
Clearpool Model Forest opens newly mapped trails and points of interest for public access.
Dr. Edward Placke named successor to long-time Executive Director Joe Whalen. Placke to assume leadership in Spring 2017.
Green Chimneys makes its Broadway debut as a featured nonprofit on the Times Square billboard operated by finance giant Morgan Stanley, as part of a multi-media campaign highlighting causes supported by the corporation.
Green Chimneys and University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection initiate joint research to study the impact of Green Chimneys’ unique farm programs on developmental health and education outcomes for its students.
Nature’s Nursery awarded Putnam County Day Care Center of the Year by The Child Care Council of Dutchess and Putnam.
Dr. Edward Placke takes the helm as Executive Director with a symbolic ‘passing of the reins’ celebration attended by the entire Green Chimneys community.
Green Chimneys and County officials cut the ribbon on Ross Hall, a new academic building with state-of-the-art classrooms for the school’s elementary grades.
Over 100 runners turn out for the very first “Conquer the Forest” trail run to challenge themselves through the forests and fields of our scenic Clearpool campus.
Green Chimneys celebrates 70 years at its annual gala, with the Ross family in attendance.
Green Chimneys Founder Dr. Samuel B. Ross, Jr. dies peacefully at the age of 89, surrounded by his family.
Community-Based Services opens Putnam County’s only Transitional Living Program for 16-21 year olds who are, or at risk of becoming, homeless. The shared residence provides a safe, stable environment, life skills development, and social supports to prepare young adults for healthy, independent living.
Green Chimneys Founder Myra Ross dies peacefully, among family, at the age of 88.
It’s a banner year for media coverage as Green Chimneys is featured in The New York Times and broadcasted nationally on NBC News and across the New York region on Fox5 NY News.
Wildlife staff become TV stars when the Bronx Zoo brings an injured turkey vulture and a crew from Animal Planet series “The Zoo” to share the story of the bird’s rehabilitation and successful release back into the wild.
Publication of findings from phase one of the joint Green Chimneys-Denver nature-based research, including a compendium of full program documentation and an article in The Journal of Youth Development.
Following the rescue and extended care of a Bald eagle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially designates Green Chimneys as the permanent home for the unreleasable bird – a rare honor for a wildlife center!
Green Chimneys is the first special education school in New York State to resume in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With increased leisure time spent outdoors during the pandemic and more people observing and caring about wildlife, Green Chimneys rescues a remarkable 180 birds spanning 37 different species.
Green Chimneys never ceases operation as 484 staff continue to serve 254 students, and 1000 community youth and their families.
A third camel officially makes a herd! Green Chimneys welcomes Bunni, a 9-year-old dromedary from Texas.
Three months after a joint rescue effort by good Samaritans, park rangers, and DEC officials, a rehabilitated Bald eagle is majestically released back into the wild at Clearpool.
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Gandalf is a 15-year-old Appaloosa gelding from Bethlehem, CT. The Appaloosa is an American horse breed best known for its colorful spotted coat pattern. Gandalf received his magical name from the children of Green Chimneys. A naming contest was held, and students submitted their ideas.