Actor Hilarie Burton on Giving Every Child a Childhood

It takes a village to raise a child, and Rhinebeck is no different.

I first heard about Astor Services for Children and Families two springs ago while gardening in front of our candy store, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, in Rhinebeck. David Hyman, a longtime regular at the shop, told me about the volunteer work he had been doing there. He described the children’s home in Rhinebeck as a refuge for our state’s neediest kids, describing how it heals and rebuilds their lives, and detailed the excellent care these children received from Astor’s staff. But their living quarters, he said, were heartbreaking.

Months passed, and then my friend Tara Shafe told me about a project that she and another friend, Kate Kortbus, were working on called Families for Astor. They immediately insisted that I visit Astor’s facility. 

David was right: The building was a time capsule from 1953. A new wing housed about a third of its young residents, with 40 or so additional kids inhabiting the old building. Made up of four, eight-bedroom wings, it was a labyrinth of dimly lit halls and crumbling walls — the wear of 60+ years of service had left the place a bit shattered. 

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How could we expect to bring emotionally fragile children into our community, tell them the world is a good place and that life will get better, if we’re putting them to bed at night in a room that’s one step up from a cellblock? How could they dream bigger dreams? How could they get their childhoods back?

I had to get involved. 

Last October, I — with the help of my husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan and fellow actors Mary Stuart Masterson and Griffin Dunne — held a fundraiser in the organization’s honor. We called it “Ghostories,” and raised money for the renovation of the existing four wings of the historic Astor building.

By this spring, after much planning, we were finally able to tackle the first wing. Each of its eight bedrooms was painted and installed with new lighting, rugs, linens, wall decals, and pillows — all the trimmings of a typical kid’s bedroom. The area’s hallways, shared living room, and kitchen were brightened by a camp theme, bringing the beauty of the Hudson Valley landscape inside. 

Amazing volunteers have joined the cause along the way, like contractor Mark McEathron and his crew, who oversaw the project, and Mike Stanhope, an electrician, and his son, who installed all new lighting fixtures and helped with the overall build. Plumber Tim Decker tackled the bathrooms and the kitchen. Mike Diblasi from New Creation Painting & Wallpaper repaired the crumbling walls and brought new life to the space with bright colors. Davis Furniture provided new furniture for the wing, and Kim Williams from Williams Lumber was a true ally and compassionate supporter of the project.

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I am humbled and moved by the generosity of these folks and countless others. They had their own jobs to focus on, their own families, their own gardens to ready. Yet, they didn’t hesitate for a moment to put these kids first.

So, thank you. To my friends who have brought awareness to Astor Services; to the staff whose selflessness is an inspiration; to our community members who have donated to the cause; and to any of you who are moved to get involved in the future of this endeavor. 

Hilarie Burton lives in Dutchess County with her husband, actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and their son. She currently stars in the TV series Lethal Weapon on Amazon Prime.

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