An innovative program in New York is helping special needs kids by connecting them with nature- and animal-based therapies.
For kids struggling with emotional, social, learning and behavioral challenges, a change in scenery can make a life-altering difference. Green Chimneys’ innovative program in New York is built on that belief, offering greener pastures for special needs kids by connecting them with nature- and animal-based therapies. The organization’s goal is to teach children critical life skills through residential, educational, clinical and recreational services, while nurturing connections with their families, the community and nature.
“When children are given a chance to explore their inherent strengths in a safe and structured nature-based environment, their self-esteem, compassion, coping and social skills improve,” says Joseph Whalen, Executive Director with Green Chimneys. “Human-animal contact—and contact with nature in general—can have a profound effect on children, and this informs everything we do.”
Morgan Stanley employees have partnered with Green Chimneys for nearly 12 years providing an array of volunteer support and boundless enthusiasm for the organization’s mission. In 2011, Morgan Stanley employees helped evolve the nonprofit’s business plan as part of the firm’s annual Strategy Challenge by optimizing a second campus located in Carmel, NY. Two employees serve on Green Chimneys’ board, and the firm is pleased to have provided the organization with funding that directly supports the children and animals. And, Morgan Stanley volunteer employees helped create awareness of Green Chimneys’ New York City programs for homeless LGBTQ youth through consultation, special events and outreach activities.
This month, Green Chimneys will welcome more than 280 Morgan Stanley volunteers over eight days for a total of more than 1,000 hours of free labor. “This hands-on help allows Green Chimneys to take on projects that otherwise would be very costly or simply have to wait,” says Whalen. “The groups work fast and furiously and complete many projects – from fence painting to mulching, gardening to building – all with a smile!” And Whalen says there’s another benefit of having Morgan Stanley volunteers on campus: “Our children see that the community cares about them. That’s a powerful message for those who are struggling.”
Since its founding in 1947, Green Chimneys has grown from a farm and school serving 11 children to a multi-service organization designed to meet the needs of many communities and thousands of children and families each year. Many are special needs youngsters who are failing to thrive within traditional settings while some are homeless youth or teens in crisis looking for acceptance and direction.
Green Chimneys’ main campus in Brewster, NY, boasts more than 300 rescued or donated domesticated farm animals, a children’s garden and multi-acre sustainable farm. “Gardening teaches the children patience and teamwork,” says Whalen, “while bonding with an animal creates trust, empathy, a sense of responsibility and self-confidence in even the most hard-to-reach child.” The organization is internationally recognized for its pioneering leadership in animal and nature-based therapy, which is bolstered by many staff professionals, including clinicians, psychologists, special education teachers, animal experts and occupational and speech therapists.
“We’re dedicated to helping kids reclaim their childhood, discover their self-worth and create a future for themselves as independent, contributing adults,” says Joan Steinberg, Global Head of Philanthropy at Morgan Stanley. “They return to their home school districts, families and communities with a far greater chance of success. We’re proud to be a partner that supports Green Chimneys in furthering its mission of helping children reach their true potential.”