Helping Kids Be Kids in Putnam Valley

By Guest Writer: Gabriella Cassandra September 15, 2015

Tucked away in Putnam Valley is a safe haven for New York City’s children in foster care and the child welfare system. Every summer, the team at The New York Foundling, along with our partners at The Felix Organization, provide a carefree experience to approximately 90 of these children each week who many never have had the opportunity to have travel outside of the City, or even out of their borough.


At Camp Felix, campers experience structure and routine, which provide a sense of stability and security, which many of our campers so often lack in their lives. This allows them the opportunity to safely take risks and helps them grow and succeed. Kids from some of our nation's poorest communities - many of whom have never been in a pool - learn how to swim, and participate in activities that build self-confidence, resilience, and feelings of community. The campers connect with each other through our principles of RESPECT and the concepts of leadership and dedication.


Respect for self and others

Engage in positive decision-making

Support each other at camp

Peaceful conflict resolution

Experience something new

Care for your environment

Tolerance for others despite differences


Camp Felix is specially designed to meet the needs of this underserved group of children.  Staff and counselors receive extensive training in order to work at Camp Felix. They create clear expectations and a sense of routine for campers. Kids who’ve had the experience of being awakened at night and told to pack and move to a new home, now have a predictable schedule and a routine they can count on. Staff are trained to use consistent positive language; misbehavior results in consequences which are logical, not punitive. Campers are encouraged to reflect on their own actions and make any necessary changes to keep on growing. Numerous staff members come from Haven Academy Charter School, which also values the same concepts. Many of the staff are educational majors, and for a long time the camp has been run by Social Work staff which allows us to approach all our work from a positive, strengths-based approach.


One of the empowering activities is Arts and Crafts. In the Arts and Crafts cabin, campers are encouraged to express their individuality and creativity. Ana Mathis, Arts and Crafts Director, carefully develops activities which promote creativity and community. For example, campers competed in teams to create a boat from recycled materials and then walk to the river to race the boats. Through this and other carefully-constructed activities, children and teens learn to be confident in themselves, to communicate with their peers and to value their contributions to the project.


Campers learn that they can succeed through life – something that, sadly, they may not have realized before Camp Felix. They learn that they can overcome challenges, that there is more to life than their current experience. They learn the concepts of community (brotherhood and sisterhood), of leadership and dedication. From learning healthy habits through exercise and nutrition, to forming lifelong friendships, campers are always learning and having fun. Our kids build self-confidence by participating in the annual talent show and have the option to tackle the camp's 50-foot tall rock-climbing wall!


It’s so uplifting to see how much progress many of the campers make while at Camp Felix. These are children who have faced adversity at a young age, and it takes significant courage and resiliency to push through the hardships and just be a kid. Camp is supposed to be for the children, but to see everyone smiling, laughing and being creative is an incredible gift that I feel lucky to experience each summer.


Gabriella Cassandra was the previous On Site Director and is the current Interim Program Director of Camp Felix, a summer camp run by The New York Foundling and The Felix Organization. Learn more about Camp Felix and sponsor a camper to make an impact on a child’s life today here