Hudson Valley Summer Camps

Warmer weather may not arrive until a few months from now, but sign-up for summer camp is well underway. Before you pack up the kids, check out these noteworthy Valley camps


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catskill animal sanctuaryPhotographs courtesy of Catskill Animal Sanctuary

Camp Kindness

Tucked away on 80 quiet acres in Saugerties is the Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS), home to more than 1,700 abused, neglected, and abandoned farm animals since it opened 10 years ago. Founded by Kathy Stevens and Jesse Moore, the sanctuary’s mission is to provide a loving abode to mistreated horses, cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and others, and to educate the public about the hardships many farm animals endure and why. Part of that mission — fostering lifelong respect and compassion for all living creatures — led to the development of Camp Kindness in 2010. As they gear up for their second year, camp cofounder and CAS Education Director Betsy Messenger looks forward to another highly successful summer. “We had a waiting list last year, and I’m already getting calls for this year,” she states proudly. “We had a very positive year; we’re just so excited.”

When Messenger and her colleagues — Melissa Bamford and Dawn Hubbell — sat down to envision the camp in January of 2010, they started by identifying the goals of the program. They were able to narrow it down to three: facilitating animal interaction, fostering compassion, and educating about the issues surrounding the factory farming industry today. “There’s so much talk these days about organic, free range, et cetera, but in truth less than one percent of farms are organic. We see a lot of it in the Hudson Valley, but we’re in a pocket, we’re lucky,” Messenger explains. “We wanted to get kids looking at animals differently, to understand that they feel happiness, sadness, anxiety, impatience. To see that this is what they do in nature, but in factory farms this is what they’re subjected to, confined to.”

catskill animal sanctuary

To put the goals into action, Messenger, Bamford, and Hubbell — who all have education backgrounds — planned a curriculum including arts and crafts, lessons and discussions, cooking, and lots of time with the animals. Each day of the weeklong session spotlighted a different animal; on pig day, for instance, the kids gave the pigs a spa treatment, rubbing them down with mineral oil to keep their skin soft and supple. Campers made rounds with the animal care director on another day. One afternoon was spent in the garden with on-site chef Kevin Archer learning about plants, compost, and cooking animal-free (but kid-friendly) meals. Each day the kids prepared a vegan lunch, such as black bean burgers or no-chicken salad. “The kids literally picked their lunch from the garden, made it, and ate it. It was so cool, they loved it.”

Messenger points out that most of the children who attended camp were not vegan or from vegan families — they’d just attended for the animal interaction — but a lot of them went home and wanted to change their habits based on what they learned. “The parents knew we’d be having age-appropriate talks about factory farming and that we’d do a vegan lunch,” Messenger explains. “A lot called afterwards and said ‘I need to know how to support my child in making these changes.’ They were enlightened; it made them think about their choices. Many parents said they wanted an adult Camp Kindness!”

Though plans for 2011 hadn’t been solidified by press time, given the success of the camp’s first year it’s safe to say that there won’t be too many revisions to its structure, although Messenger says they’ll offer more than four sessions, and probably won’t accept any children under seven this year. “Animal interaction is such a huge part of the program, and it’s just more appropriate for older kids,” she says.

Quick Stats:
Schedule: Mon.-Fri., July through August
Session length: One week
Pick-up/drop-off: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Ages: 8-13
Staff-to-camper ratio: 1:3
Cost: $275 per week; scholarships available
Web site:
Contact: Betsy Messenger 845-336-8447 or

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