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 >

My earliest memories are of animals.

Dr. Samuel B. Ross Jr.

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!
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Samuel B. Ross, Jr. & Myra Mattes Ross

Founders of Green Chimneys

Samuel B. Ross, Jr. & Myra Mattes Ross

Founders of Green Chimneys

From the time he was a young child Samuel “Rollo” Ross, Jr. found comfort in being with animals. Driven by his experience, this 19-year-old young man was motivated to open a school on a farm with help from his parents. Rollo’s marriage to Myra Mattes several years later cemented a lifelong partnership, and the young couple began their life’s work together while raising three children. For more than 70 years, they successfully transformed the organization from an 11 student school into a multifaceted non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people meet their full potential. Additionally, the couple shared their practical learning and insights with professionals from around the world who were dedicated to helping children and who believed in the healing power of nature-based and animal-assisted therapy. Myra and Rollo are no longer with us, but their passion and commitment remain the cornerstone of our culture to this day.

Henry J. and Erna D. Leir

The Leir Foundation

Henry J. and Erna D. Leir

The Leir Foundation

For more than two decades, The Leir Foundation, established by Henry J. and Erna D. Leir, has been instrumental in advancing the legacy of our founders, Samuel and Myra Ross. Henry J. Leir, born in Germany in 1900 was a successful industrialist, who, with his wife Erna, escaped the Nazi regime by moving to Luxembourg and then to the US in 1938. The Leirs devoted their time and efforts to philanthropy, supporting services for children and the disadvantaged, among many other causes. Thanks to the Foundation’s generosity, Green Chimneys offers The Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Global Intern Program, which provides a unique, hands-on experience for individuals interested in learning about human-animal interaction and how it can benefit children with special needs. Each year, interns from throughout the US and the world engage our students in animal-assisted therapeutic activities; many interns go on to pursue careers as therapists, veterinarians, and researchers. We are very grateful to the Leir Foundation for its steadfast commitment to Green Chimneys and for enabling us to provide this innovative program.

The Engelstad Foundation

The Engelstad Foundation

Through their grants program, the Engelstad Foundation began helping Green Chimneys to provide vital academic and therapeutic programs in 2020 at a time when our students and families needed us most. Earlier that year, Green Chimneys welcomed Kris Engelstad McGarry and her family for a visit to our campus. A trustee of The Engelstad Foundation based in Las Vegas, Kris understands the impact of philanthropy on local and national issues. Created in 2002 by Kris’ parents, Ralph and Betty Engelstad, The Engelstad Foundation is committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities and creating opportunities for at-risk individuals. The Foundation’s understanding of the issues faced by children with mental health challenges and commitment to supporting innovative nature-based therapies is providing an extraordinary partnership with Green Chimneys. We are truly grateful to The Engelstad Foundation for their commitment to the success of our children and the support of their families.

Al Marmor

Volunteer

Al Marmor

Volunteer

Al Marmor has been a volunteer at the Farm & Wildlife Center since 1998 where he has been a carpenter, horticulturist, animal caretaker, snow remover, painter, and has attended to chores large and small in all seasons and in all kinds of weather. Although his work contribution is evidence of his commitment to the Green Chimneys mission, it is Al’s large heart and sense of humor that have endeared him to generations of students and staff. In his 20+ years at Green Chimneys, Al has been a donor, an all-around supporter, a friend of our founder Dr. Samuel Ross and a mentor to many.

Paul Kupchok

Paul Kupchok

In 1987, Paul’s teaching experience and passion for animals brought him to Green Chimneys. For nearly 30 years, he directed the Sam and Myra Ross Farm & Wildlife Center on our Brewster campus. During his tenure, Paul developed a noted wildlife rescue and rehabilitation program, which was eventually named in his honor. Today, the thriving Paul C. Kupchok Wildlife Center is home to more than 50 permanently disabled birds of prey and provides Green Chimneys students and the public the opportunity to learn about these magnificent animals. Paul also created Birds of Prey Day in 1992, a Green Chimneys event that has become one of the largest local festivals attracting 3,000 people annually. Thanks to Paul’s expertise and talents, hundreds of wildlife have been successfully rehabilitated and released or rehomed, and thousands of our students and visitors have developed tremendous respect for animals, nature, and the environment.

Plan ahead to attend one or more of these in-person events:
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Green Chimneys relies on your generosity to sustain services to children and animals. There are so many ways you can help today:

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Our History

Green Chimneys property purchased by Ross Family.

1947

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.

1948

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.

1952

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.

1954

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.

1966

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.

1971

Hillside Outdoor Education Center is established for year-round adventure programs and summer camp.

1972

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.

1974

Green Chimneys acquires 40 acres of farm land across from the main campus and creates Boni-Bel Organic Farm.

1980

Nature’s Nursery pre-school opens as a full-day year-round program for 3-5 year olds.

1981

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.

1982

Gramercy Residence opens in Manhattan as a group residence to prepare troubled youth for independent living. Program later transitions to serving LGBTQ youth.

1984

Farm Center expands with the addition of the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation program.

1988

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.

1993

Therapeutic Day Program opens, providing a special education day school option for students from local districts.

1995

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.

1996

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.

2008

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.

2010

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.

2012

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.

2012

Clearpool Model Forest initiates first projects demonstrating best practices in forest management and water conservation, along with educational programming for the public.

2013

Dr. Samuel Ross is presented with the prestigious Andrew Goodman Hidden Heroes Award, recognizing his lifetime humanitarian efforts.

2013

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.

2013

Three-week-old baby emu arrives and becomes Green Chimneys’ first farm resident to be named by the public via social media voting campaign.

2014

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.

2014

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.

2014

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.

2015

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.

2015

Summer Camp program recognized by American Camping Association with the Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence.

2016

Joe Whalen receives Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, Mercy College.

2016

Clearpool Model Forest opens newly mapped trails and points of interest for public access.

2016

Dr. Edward Placke named successor to long-time Executive Director Joe Whalen. Placke to assume leadership in Spring 2017.

2016

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.

2016

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.

2016

Nature’s Nursery awarded Putnam County Day Care Center of the Year by The Child Care Council of Dutchess and Putnam.

2016

Dr. Edward Placke takes the helm as Executive Director with a symbolic ‘passing of the reins’ celebration attended by the entire Green Chimneys community.

2017

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.

2017

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.

2017

Green Chimneys celebrates 70 years at its annual gala, with the Ross family in attendance.

2017

Green Chimneys Founder Dr. Samuel B. Ross, Jr. dies peacefully at the age of 89, surrounded by his family.

2018

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.

2018

Green Chimneys Founder Myra Ross dies peacefully, among family, at the age of 88.

2019

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.

2019

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.

2019

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.

2019

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!

2019

Green Chimneys is the first special education school in New York State to resume in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020

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.

2020

Green Chimneys never ceases operation as 484 staff continue to serve 254 students, and 1000 community youth and their families.

2020

A third camel officially makes a herd! Green Chimneys welcomes Bunni, a 9-year-old dromedary from Texas.

2021

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.

2021

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