“It is one of the bigger honors of my life to be a part of something that has such a profound effect on our population in New York State,” shares actress Hilarie Burton during a recent visit to Astor Services for Children & Families in Rhinebeck.
“This is the last stop for kids who need treatment in our area and, if I can contribute in any way to helping those kids so their adulthood is bright, so they are hopeful, so they are rehabilitated from whatever trauma they have incurred, that is extraordinarily rewarding.”
Burton, best known for her role on One Tree Hill, and husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan, star of The Walking Dead, recently unveiled their latest renovation project for Astor Services for Children & Families, a non-profit organization providing children’s mental health services, child welfare services, and early development programs.
This phase of their ongoing restoration focused on the children’s units in the on-campus Residential Treatment Center (RTC). The space received quite the facelift with the transformation of the blank, stale walls into a colorful garden atmosphere equipped with customized bedding for each child.
“Every child is unique and has their own interests,” explains Burton as she points out the radiant new mural that consumes the wall. “The new space is so eclectic and versatile that it really captures each one’s personality.” In addition to the mural, Astor’s interior now boasts some of the artwork that previously graced the walls of Paul Rudd’s home.
At the unveiling, many staff members at Astor were left in tears after witnessing the space for the first time. “We are enormously grateful for Hilarie and Jeff’s many contributions and those of all the other Ghost Stories performers in supporting fundraising events for Astor’s children,” says James McGuirk, Executive Director and CEO of Astor Services.
“Their involvement, along with the work of the trade professionals, Astor staff and volunteers that participated in the renovations, have given the children that live at Astor a welcoming home that helps promote comfort and healing.”
Inside the renovation at Astor Services / Photo courtesy of Astor Services
Speaking of Ghost Stories, it’s back! The spooktacular fundraising event headlined by Burton and Morgan will return on February 9 at UPAC in Kingston. The couple (along with a few surprise A-listers) will grace the stage for Ghost Stories III – A Cold Winter’s Night.
“We have a block of rooms to bring some friends in, not necessarily locals, who will be joining in,” Burton hints when questioned about those surprise guests. Although she won’t reveal too many details, she did let slip that Mary Stuart Masterson (Some Kind of Wonderful, Fried Green Tomatoes) will be joining her on stage for a tale or two.
This year’s event, which will begin earlier to make it a family-friendly affair, features stories written by Astor students and performed by Morgan, Burton, and their elite guests. Stay tuned in January for the release of who will be taking the stage, but make sure to score tickets early, since the event is bound to sell out.
“Every year we try to make it different; it is a bit of a variety show. We want to transport people and we want to entertain them while we are working for a really great cause,” shares Burton. “I don’t know any other event in the Hudson Valley where you will see an eclectic group of actors come together and put on a show like this. We are bringing in A-list people to do this show.”
Photo courtesy of Astor Services
Calling all ghost stories! As an ongoing initiative to fundraise year-round for the families of Astor, Morgan and Burton are collecting Hudson Valley ghost stories to rope into an anthology. With that in mind, Hudson Valleyites with creaks in their attics and ghosts in their pantries (or any other places that ghosts camp out) are welcome to share their haunted happenings.
For the spookiest submissions, the couple will send a writer to local homes or businesses to capture the story. Not sure if you have a ghost in your basement or just a creaky water heater? If you think something otherworldly might be lingering near you, the couple may even send a ghost hunter to scope out your space.
“We are looking for new ways to bring the community in. Rather than us just tell you stuff, we want to hear what you have to tell us,” Burton explains. “Come forth with your weird stories. I love them, I celebrate them.”
The work at Astor Services has become a family affair for Burton and Morgan, who moved to the Hudson Valley over eight years ago.
“I want my children to be a part of it. That’s why you see my daughter on my hip most of the time. My son, Gus helps me with design choices. It’s important to teach your kids at an early age that you have to pitch in,” Burton says. Growing up in Virginia, Burton, who was student council president in high school, gathered the importance of giving back and helping others. She never let go of the idea, ‘“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”’
Photo courtesy of Astor Services
After living for a stint in Los Angeles, the couple swapped their Hollywood lifestyle for two kids, eight alpacas, an emu, chickens, ducks, three highland cattle, dairy cows, five mini donkeys, and two dogs on 100 acres of farmland in Rhinebeck. “We traded in our L.A. clothes for everything that we could buy at Williams Lumber,” jokes Burton.
When asked what brought them to the bucolic Hudson Valley, Burton flashes back to the time they were living in Kerhonkson with their six-month-old son while Morgan was shooting “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.” When filming finally wrapped, neither Burton nor Morgan looked forward to returning to Los Angeles.
“Griffin Dunne had invited us to a house party,” Burton recalls. “We drove through Rhinebeck and stopped at Samuel’s [Sweet Shop] so Jeffrey could get a cup of coffee.” It was there that the pair met Ira Gutner, the candy shop’s founder, who became their first friend in town. “The quality of life here has changed our mindset. You don’t necessarily live to work, you work to live here,” she determines.
Life on the farm definitely keeps them busy though. “The very active living here is rehabilitating,” shares Burton, who grows all their vegetables and fruits while Morgan cares for the animals. Yet it doesn’t keep them from visiting their friends and local shop owners, many of whom inspire the couple. Anyone out and about in Rhinebeck may even catch them grabbing a bite at Le Petit Bistro or shopping for gifts at Merriweather’s and, of course, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, where they became co-owners.
Photo by Amanda Clark
Thankful for her Hudson Valley lifestyle, Burton considers wealth the ability to drive over the Kingston bridge and take in the views. “I have lived in environments before where your wealth is determined by what shoes you wear and what car you drive and how big your house is. Wealth here is so evenly distributed with the landscape and with the beauty and community that it makes me happy to raise my children like this. I want them to value landscape over label.”
To reserve your seats for Ghost Stories, visit www.astorservices.org/event/ghost-stories-iii. To submit your very own Hudson Valley bump in the night story, send an email with a brief description to email@example.com.