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Dutchess County’s “Think DIFFERENTLY” Initiative Passed Throughout New York State

Published: 8/1/2016

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Colleen Pillus

Poughkeepsie… Towns, cities and villages throughout New York State have answered Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro’s call to “Think DIFFERENTLY” and have adopted resolutions that encourage supportive environments for residents with special needs.

WeThinkDIFFERENTLY logo“We have asked residents, businesses and now communities to ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ and the response has been overwhelming. Municipalities across New York are embracing our call to action and are moving forward to make their community more supportive and accepting of all our neighbors of all abilities,” County Executive Molinaro said. “Just days after asking communities to consider adopting ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ resolutions, I was thrilled to see municipalities from Dutchess County, the Capital District, Central New York and the lower Hudson Valley pass them and begin to expand a sense of inclusiveness to all residents, regardless of ability. I’m confident in the coming weeks, more communities will adopt similar legislation to show to the rest of the country that in New York, we ‘Think DIFFERENTLY.’ ”

In 2015, County Executive Molinaro established the “Think DIFFERENTLY” initiative, calling on businesses, organizations and individuals in Dutchess County to examine how they think of and interact with residents with special needs. Since then, Dutchess County has taken proactive steps to promote “Think DIFFERENTLY” – many of which have come at no cost to the County – including:

  • partnering with the Anderson Center for Autism to teach local companies and groups how to better serve residents with autism and other cognitive disabilities through autism supportive environment training;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • conducting the search for a 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;
  • 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;
  • hosting the inaugural “Think DIFFERENTLY Dash,” a 1-mile walk/run through the City of Poughkeepsie for residents with special needs.

This past June, County Executive Molinaro, who serves on the Board of Directors of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), presented a resolution to the organization to promote the “Think DIFFERENTLY” initiative in all 62 counties in the state. NYAC’s Board of Directors passed the resolution unanimously.

Earlier this month, the City of Troy became the first municipality in the state to adopt a “Think DIFFERENTLY” resolution, passing it unanimously.

"Dutchess County Executive Molinaro and his efforts with ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ are truly inspiring, and they motivated me to follow his lead to bring a more supportive and inclusive environment for residents with special needs to the City of Troy,” stated Troy City Council President Carmella Mantello, who introduced the resolution. “Throughout Dutchess County, organizations, businesses and individuals have sought to ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ and look past people's differences and embrace what makes us all human. Dutchess County is a model, and we can make this happen for our special needs community in Troy. I applaud my fellow Council Members for their support and commitment of this important initiative.”

The Town of North East (Dutchess County), Town of LaGrange (Dutchess County), Village of Fishkill (Dutchess County), Village of Nelsonville (Putnam County), Town of Horicon (Warren County), Town of Warwarsing (Ulster County), Village of Lake George (Warren County), Village of Riverside (Steuben County), Village of Skaneateles (Onondoga County) and Village of Weedsport (Cayuga County) soon passed similar “Think DIFFERENTLY” resolutions.

“The Town of North East is proud to support the ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ initiative,” said Councilman John Midwood, who introduced the resolution in North East. “County Executive Molinaro’s desire for communities to ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ about residents with special needs is a spirit we should all embrace. We look forward to making North East even more accessible and inviting to people of every ability.”

Later this summer, County Executive Molinaro will travel to Troy to talk with city leaders, businesses, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders about how that city can implement “Think DIFFERENTLY” strategies, based on its unique characteristics and populations.

In September, County Executive Molinaro will lead a panel discussion on his “Think DIFFERENTLY” efforts at NYSAC’s fall seminar in Niagara Falls, NY.

“Our ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ philosophy can be adapted in myriad ways, depending on a community’s distinct composition. Every municipality is different, and each has the opportunity to implement the ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ initiative based upon what works best for them,” County Executive Molinaro said. “We in Dutchess County fund several projects to improve accessibility for residents, but there are countless opportunities to ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ that require no funding at all – just a willingness to embrace a different way of thinking and put that into action. At its core, ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ is about changing the way many of us think about and relate to residents with special needs and finding the innate potential inside us all. It’s a philosophy I’m happy to see spread throughout New York, and I encourage other communities to consider our initiative for adoption. Every individual of every ability deserves support, acceptance and respect and we start by asking all of us to 'Think DIFFERENTLY.’ ”