Launched by Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro in 2015, the “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” initiative seeks to change the way individuals, businesses, organizations and communities relate to our neighbors with special needs.
“ThinkDIFFERENTLY” is a call to action, a genuine challenge to determine if we have it within ourselves to look past our differences and treat others the way we would hope to be treated. Too often, too many with special needs are overlooked and their unique abilities ignored. Instead, we seek to lift each other up and embrace all residents of all abilities.
An individual can "ThinkDIFFERENTLY" by focusing on the abilities of each person rather than being concerned about their disabilities. A business can “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” by changing the way they welcome a customer with sensory issues into its establishment. A community can “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” by taking the needs of residents of all abilities into consideration when making planning decisions. The possibilities are seemingly endless, all with the goal of providing a more supportive environment for those with special needs.
In 2016, Dutchess County presented the first annual "ThinkDIFFERENTLY Dash" and hosted to the Special Olympics New York Winter Games, where our community broke records for fan support.
Some of the proactive steps Dutchess County has taken embrace residents of all abilities include:
Funding, through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, several projects featuring accessible infrastructure – beyond traditional ramps, curb cuts and the like – which increased residents’ access to facilities and resources throughout the county, including the Julie’s Jungle adaptive playground and an adaptive baseball field for the Little League Challenger Division in the Town of Wappinger;
Partnering with a local movie theater to offer several free Saturday morning movies to families with children with special needs, lowering the volume and raising the lights inside the theater to accommodate children with sensory issues;
Educating law enforcement officers, corrections officers, 911 dispatchers and first responders in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and Mental Health First Aid, which enables them to effectively interact with individuals in crisis, including those with special needs;
Hosting several free picnics for children with special needs and their families, bringing together these families with local agencies and organizations that serve residents with special needs;
Partnering with the local Anderson Center for Autism to provide “Autism Supportive Environment” training, which teaches local businesses and community groups how to communicate better with and provide a more welcoming environment for residents with autism;
Appointing Toni-Marie Ciarfella as Dutchess County’s Deputy Commissioner of Special Needs, likely the first such position of its kind in the state, to help residents with special needs navigate the network of services providers and government agencies to find the assistance that best serves them. Ms. Ciarfella can be reached at (845) 486-3434 or email@example.com;
Hosting the 2016 Special Olympics New York State Winter Games and the 2017 State Winter Games, which return to the Hudson Valley on Feb. 17-18;
Hosting the inaugural “ThinkDIFFERENTLY Dash,” a 1-mile walk/run through the City of Poughkeepsie for residents with special needs, which returns in 2017 on June 10th.
These are just some of the ways we in Dutchess County “ThinkDIFFERENTLY.” Communities around the state can replicate these or come up with their own – all with the aim of looking past what makes us all different in favor of looking for the unique potential in us all.
We in Dutchess County welcome communities throughout New York State to embrace “ThinkDIFFERENTLY.” Since July 2016, the following municipalities around New York State have adopted their own “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” resolutions promoting an inclusive environment for residents with special needs:
Communities can show they “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” in countless ways, many of which have no added cost to a community – from partnering with local organizations to changing the way they think about residents with special needs.
For questions or for more information, email ThinkDIFFERENTLY@dutchessny.gov