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Poughkeepsie, NY … Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro received the Public Official of the Year Award from the New York State Rehabilitation Association (NYSRA) at the organization’s annual summit in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday.
The NYSRA’s Public Official of the Year Award recognizes the outstanding achievements of individuals in government service who have made significant contributions to the lives of residents with disabilities.
“I am honored to be recognized as this year’s Public Official of the Year. For the past several years, Dutchess County has worked tirelessly for its residents with special needs – from funding projects that assure more accessibility for our neighbors of all abilities to recently appointing our Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, the first position of its kind in New York State,” County Executive Molinaro said. “Advocating for residents of all abilities has long been my passion, and I’ve been extremely happy with the response Dutchess County has shown toward our efforts to ‘Think DIFFERENTLY’ about how we interact with our neighbors with special needs.”
Nominees for the NYSRA award must have held, or currently hold, a government position; demonstrate an ability to implement public policy that benefits people with disabilities; and demonstrate a leadership role in working with other public officials in implementing public policy affecting services for and/or the lives of people with disabilities.
The father of a daughter who lives on the autism spectrum, County Executive Molinaro in 2015 established the “Think DIFFERENTLY” initiative, which looks to foster a more inclusive community for Dutchess County residents with special needs. Since then, Dutchess County has taken numerous steps to “Think DIFFERENTLY” about residents with special needs.
Among other actions, Dutchess County has funded, through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, several projects featuring accessible infrastructure which increased residents’ access to facilities and resources; appointed a Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, who can help residents with special needs navigate service providers and government agencies; partnered with the Anderson Center for Autism to teach local businesses and organizations to better communicate with residents with autism; and hosted the 2016 Special Olympics New York State Winter Games, the inaugural “Think DIFFERENTLY” Dash for residents of all abilities, and several free movie days and picnics for residents with special needs. More information is available at dutchessny.gov/thinkdifferently.
“With his creative thinking and vision, County Executive Molinaro has made great strides to make Dutchess County even more inclusive and welcoming for residents with special needs,” said Linda Campbell, Director of Employment Services at The Arc of Dutchess, who nominated County Executive Molinaro for the NYSRA award. “Dutchess County has embraced the County Executive’s call to action, asking all residents to look past our differences and focus on what makes us all equal. The special needs community has a great friend and advocate in County Executive Molinaro, and Dutchess County is fortunate to have his leadership.”
This past June, County Executive Molinaro introduced a resolution to the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) Board of Directors, on which he serves, to promote the “Think DIFFERENTLY” initiative in all 62 counties in New York State. The Board of Directors unanimously adopted the resolution.
The County Executive has also encouraged every city, town and village in New York to consider adopting “Think DIFFERENTLY” resolutions that promote supportive environments for residents of all abilities. The City of Troy was the first municipality in the state to adopt such a resolution, passing it unanimously; and more than three dozen other communities throughout the state have adopted similar resolutions.
“NYSRA’s Public Official of the Year Award is given to individuals in government service who have made significant contributions to the lives of individuals with disabilities. With his ‘Think DIFFERENTLY campaign, bringing awareness to the needs of individuals with disabilities living in communities throughout Dutchess County and the other 61 counties in New York State, County Executive Molinaro has demonstrated exactly the kind of qualities we wish to recognize,” said Michael Seereiter, President and CEO of the New York State Rehabilitation Association (NYSRA). “And recently, County Executive Molinaro has gone even further, appointing an advocate for individuals with special needs to help individuals with disabilities navigate government systems and community services/programs, so that those individuals can achieve the greatest degree of independence, self-sufficiency, and inclusion in their own communities.”
Former recipients of the NYSRA Public Official of the Year Award include New York State Senator Catharine Young and former State Senator Roy J. McDonald, among others.