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Hudson Valley News

Dutchess County Exec Names First Deputy Commissioner For Special Needs

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WAMC, Allison Dunne
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Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro Tuesday announced his selection to fill the county’s newly created position of Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports.

Toni-Marie Ciarfella will become the county’s first Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, a position believed to be the first of its kind for New York state.

“Our goal was to create a high-level management position in Dutchess County government with the goal of evaluating, planning and initiating along with coordinating and monitoring the wide range of programs for individuals of every ability,” Molinaro says.  “The concept was to take what was merely challenge to think differently and instill within county government a desire to act differently.”’

County Executive Molinaro made the announcement at the Arc of Dutchess LaGrange Vocational Center. In 2015, Molinaro launched his Think Differently initiative, which seeks to change the way individuals, businesses, organizations and communities relate to neighbors with special needs. Ciarfella was among nearly 60 applicants for the position. She says in addition to advocating for people with special needs and their families she has two other goals.

“I have an interest in transition planning. I think we could do a better job of working them through k-12 into adult services, something I had worked on during my time at Taconic DDSO. So I will be reaching out to the school districts and making some good connections there, I hope, and collaborations to really improve that,” Ciarfella says. “And then I think the third thing that I’m really interested in doing is really creating a bigger social network for the individuals with special needs so they have more social opportunities, more variety, the same variety that you and I enjoy, so that they have, if Tuesday night’s not good there’s something going on Thursday night, so it’s not just like, oh, we missed it this week, we have to wait to next week.”

Ciarfella most recently served as Director for Field Education for the Bachelor of Social Work program at Marist College. She is earning her Ph.D. from the School of Social Welfare at the University at Albany. In 1989, she began a tenure that spanned more than 20 years with the New York state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, or Taconic DDSO.

Dutchess County resident Michael Rao says he’s looking forward to great things from the new deputy commissioner and has a particular request.

“Well, some new programs for the special needs kids that are in school and more programs here at The Arc of Dutchess and that’s why we want to see it,” Rao says. “And I hope she could be great.”

Again, Molinaro.

“It’s important really to benchmark where are we in the provision of service. Where are we when it comes to creating a seamless network between county government, state government and service providers. So the first goal is really to benchmark where we are, and Toni will do that, and then, from that, create a series of expectations,” says Molinaro. “But, the overall goal is to increase the quality of life for individuals regardless of ability. And there will be ways that we measure that success. But, most notably, and most importantly, the way that we will be successful is if families, regardless of where they live in Dutchess County, feel that they have a single point of contact.”

Crys McCuin is executive director of the Arc of Dutchess.

“And so when you have a county exec that’s willing to put it out there to the rest of the community that it’s time for all of us to think differently, it’s kind of exciting because it allows the community to get behind it,” McCuin says. “And for years and years now we have, as providers, been talking about integrating the people we support into the community and the reality is they’re already there.”

Molinaro’s inspiration for Think Differently is his now 12-year-old daughter.

“Like my daughter and so many others who struggle every day with some challenge, that through our efforts to think differently, we will see everyone, we will see every individual for the beautiful soul, the amazing mind and the limitless capacity they have within each of them, and that we create a community that supports, assists and respects our neighbors, regardless of ability,” Molinaro says.

The position, announced during Molinaro’s 2016 State of the County Address, is funded through the Department of Community and Family Services, is housed in department of Behavioral and Community Health and reports directly to the county executive.

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