“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 press conference at Astor Services for Children & Families in Rhinebeck, a nonprofit providing children’s mental health services, child welfare services, and early development programs.
“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 her husband, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, star of The Walking Dead, have been volunteering for the organization for nearly four years, helping renovate and raise funds for the ongoing restoration of the historic building through events like the annual Ghost Stories, an evening of live, onstage storytelling.
The press conference is to unveil the latest phase of Astor’s restoration: the children’s units in the on-campus Residential Treatment Center (RTC). This past fall, the space received a major facelift with the transformation of the blank, stale walls into a colorful garden atmosphere equipped with customized bedding for each child.
“We traded in our L.A. clothes for everything that we could buy at Williams Lumber.”
“Every child is unique and has their own interests,” says Burton, as she points out the radiant 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 boasts some of the artwork that previously graced the walls of actor Paul Rudd’s home.
The volunteer work at Astor Services has become a family affair for Burton and Morgan, who moved to the Hudson Valley more than eight years ago.
“I want my children to be a part of it. That’s why you see my daughter (George) 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?”’
After residing for a while 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.
The couple onstage at Ghost Stories, an annual fundraiser for Astor House. Photo provided by Astor Services for Children and Families
“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 is in charge of growing the farm’s fruits and vegetables while Morgan cares for the animals.
Yet farm life doesn’t keep them from also being small business proprietors, too. The couple are co-owners of Samuel’s Sweet Shop (with friend Paul Rudd), and they frequent other Rhinebeck stores and restaurants. “I have become friends with the local shop owners,” says Burton. “I love Dick and Barbara at the [Rhinebeck] Department Store; they are what Jeffrey and I aspire to be. They are just so happy, genuinely happy. And Jen and Joe at Le Petit Bistro make sure that every person that comes into their restaurant feels like family. I think that is a really important way to run a business here.”
Thankful for her Hudson Valley lifestyle, Burton considers wealth the ability to drive over the Kingston-Rhinecliff 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.”