Our first trip to Saint Basil Academy in New York was about fifteen years ago. We were dropping off my brother there as his meeting point for a mission trip. I still vividly remember a boy walking sullenly towards a rail at the side of the road on the estate. A man was following close behind him and silently sat next to the boy on the rail, both staring off into the distance as the sun was fading. The man waited for a long moment and then turned to start talking to the boy. I could visibly see the boy begin to relax as he listened to the man talk, never hearing a word between the two.
The image of this calming man and this boy at St. Basil’s stayed with me for years.
Later, my husband and I visited Saint Basil’s again at Christmas. Our original understanding of St. Basil’s today was that it was still an orphanage. It was later that we learned that while on occasion they do have orphans stay there, it is more of a group foster home (for Orthodox children in need and siblings who would otherwise be separated in the foster care system of New York) than an orphanage anymore. In recent years, St. Basil’s has also been a home for widows and widowers with children who needed help.
On this visit at Christmas many years ago, my husband and I were struggling with infertility. We had one daughter but were longing for more children. Up until that moment, we had been looking into international adoption…but that trip was a pivotal moment when we changed paths. It was during that trip that we started thinking about following the example of those at Saint Basil Academy and we began thinking about applying to become foster parents.
Before leaving, we talked to Fr. Costas, who is the director at St. Basil’s, about the realities of fostering. It was our conversation with him in his office that made us decide to pursue this path of helping children in our local area. His counseling on that day has remained with the two of us to this day.
A few years after our talk with Fr. Costas, we adopted three biological brothers from foster care. It has been one of the biggest struggles of our marriage, but also one of our most joyful. This chapter of our lives filled the pages of a manuscript, which is tucked away in a folder on my computer, anxiously waiting for me to go ahead and submit it to a publisher.
We returned to St. Basil’s again this last month for the first time with all of our sons. My brother, Daniel, was recently hired as an assistant director there. Without any hesitation, my husband and I packed up our boys to help my brother and his family move from the seminary in Boston to St. Basil’s in Garrison. It’s amazing how so much time passes but the moment you step foot somewhere that marks such an important place in your life story, you are instantaneously taken back to that moment that defined a path in your life.
My kids had several opportunities to hang out and play with the kids living at St. Basil’s while we were there. We loved watching all of them laugh and run with their new friends. Our big boys oftentimes have a hard time making friends, but they felt so at home at St. Basil’s, being with kids who were “like them.” There was an instant connection between them. A bond of understanding, beyond words.
St. Basil Academy will always hold a dear and special place in our hearts.
There are many opportunities to help Saint Basil’s Academy:
- If the Philoptochos group at your parish holds a vasilopita fundraiser in January, please support it! The money they raise from these events is given to St. Basil’s and makes up a small portion of their yearly income. St. Basil’s cannot operate exclusively on this generous fundraiser though. Thus, it operates primarily off of donations from individuals, parishes, or corporations. If you find it in your heart to support this wonderful ministry, please click here to learn more and donate to St. Basil Academy.
- There are other opportunities to help them as well. Although the children of St. Basil’s are not available for adoption, you can however become a host family for a child. There are certain times of the year where the children will stay with an approved host family so that staff can have time off. You can read more about it here.
- There are also opportunities to volunteer at St. Basil’s. Do you have a talent you are willing to share? Are you a musician who is willing to give music lessons to the children there? Are you a certified life guard who can give swim lessons? Do you have a teen youth group who could travel to help St. Basil’s with a needed project there? Click here to contact someone at St. Basil’s.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Saint Basil Academy and the work they are doing there today, you’ll enjoy this video!
Our recent trip to St. Basil’s:
Next, we drove over to the other side of the property where Jacob Ruppert’s personal zoo was kept. Most of the buildings in this area have fallen into disrepair, with the hopes that one day they can be converted to be used for a retreat center or for other opportunities. This portion of Saint Basil Academy is rarely seen by those who visit here because it is not part of the main area.
The old water tower in the background, on the left and what is believed to be the homing pigeons tower on the right
Left & Above: The old monkey house – where the kayaks are being stored now, used to be the outside enclosure for the monkeys
Right: The gazebo within watching distance of the monkey house
Below, you will find a glimpse of the main area at Saint Basil Academy:
As you follow the main road, you will see the mansion which was the home of Jacob Ruppert and now used as the administration building, used for events, and has some guest quarters upstairs