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Molinaro Formulates Innovative ThinkDIFFERENTLY All Abilities Action Plan
2023 Executive Budget provides $160K in seed funding for forthcoming plan

Published: 10/21/2022

Poughkeepsie, NY ... Following more than seven years of statewide success with Dutchess County’s ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative, which fosters a welcoming and inclusive environment for those of all abilities, County Executive Marc Molinaro is developing a ThinkDIFFERENTLY All Abilities Action Plan – to continue reshaping the way the community relates to people of every ability. In his 2023 Executive Budget, which will be released on Tuesday, Nov. 1st, the County Executive has included $160,000 to fund several short-term objectives of the plan, which will be released in its entirety in early 2023.

Since its inception in 2015, Dutchess County’s ThinkDIFFERENTLY has encouraged a welcoming, supportive and inclusive environment for residents and visitors of every ability. To achieve this goal, County Executive Molinaro established a dedicated resource within county government, the Director of All Abilities. Dutchess County Government has taken many other steps including directing funding, through its Municipal Investment Grant and HOME programs, to adaptive infrastructure projects, including the Julie’s Jungle playground in East Fishkill, and supportive housing, such as the MEWS at Hopewell Junction apartment complex. The County has also hosted dozens of events for those of all abilities and their families; hosted ThinkDIFFERENTLY conferences, focused on inclusion, employment and connecting families to services providers; and partnered with Dutchess Community College for the innovative “Think Ahead” program, which provides qualified students with intellectual and developmental disabilities with a full college experience, teaching them job and life skills, as well as on-campus employment opportunities.  Communities across New York State and the nation have looked to Dutchess County for inspiration and today more than 100 different communities emulated the effort with their own ThinkDIFFERENTLY inclusive initiatives.

The ThinkDIFFERENTLY All Abilities Action Plan will expand the initiative’s success and set new goals with actionable items to make the Dutchess County community more accessible for those of all abilities to live, work and learn. The preliminary initiatives of the plan focus on five key areas – Housing, Employment, Education, Physical Infrastructure and Recreation – each of which plays a critical role in helping a resident with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities reach their fullest potential.

County Executive Molinaro said, “It is inspiring to see how our community has embraced ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ since we founded it in 2015.  I have had countless individuals and families with physical, intellectual and development disabilities share how it has positively impacted their lives – and how they feel seen and heard in our community like never before because we have changed how we think and relate to those with disabilities.  Now we are pushing ThinkDIFFERENTLY to the next level with defined, actionable steps in key areas to ensure every person, of every ability, can live, work and learn successfully in Dutchess County.  This is a unique moment in time to make ThinkDIFFERENTLY transformational and build on the momentum to redefine how we embrace and support everyone of every ability.”

The 2023 budget funds the following initiatives identified as short-term goals by the plan:

•    County Executive Molinaro has allocated $40,000 in his 2023 Executive Budget to create a ThinkDIFFERENTLY community building certification program with documented best practices for inclusion and accessibility – communities and businesses which adopt these principles will earn this distinction – and host trainings related to these standards.

•    The 2023 Executive Budget provides an additional $20,000 to contract with the Anderson Center for Autism to host supportive workplace trainings to teach employers about the myriad benefits of hiring those with disabilities, break down barriers and misconceptions, while increasing awareness about simple accommodations and supports including job coaches – all a continuation of the County’s efforts to educate businesses and employers, building on Think Jobs framework.

•    Through an additional $50,000 appropriated in the 2023 Executive Budget, the County will support municipal recreation programs, such as local Challenger athletics leagues and life-changing all abilities groups, such as the Red Hook Public Library’s All Abilities Group. 

•    The County will embed its Director of All Abilities, Dana Hopkins, into the decision-making process for the Dutchess County Housing Trust Fund to prioritize projects that support affordable and accessible housing throughout the community.

•    County Executive Molinaro’s 2023 budget increases funding to Taconic Resources for Independence to support expansion of its Special Education Advocates program including, parent workshops to equip families with the tools needed to advocate for their loved ones in the education system. The Executive Budget’s additional funding of $50,000 will more than double the staffing resources devoted to the advocacy program, while also creating the opportunity to renew educational workshops for parents and families.

Amy K. Smith, Head of Programs and Youth Services for the Red Hook Public Library, said, “Dutchess County is so lucky to have a government that prioritizes the needs and experiences of residents of all abilities. It's been terrific to see how many organizations and businesses have embraced the ThinkDIFFERENTLY philosophy. I'm excited for the All Abilities Action Plan and how it takes this vital initiative even further.”
County Executive Molinaro said, “Having opened people’s minds to the innate capacity we each have, regardless of ability, now we are creating ways for people to take ThinkDIFFERENTLY actions. This All Abilities Action Plan is a roadmap for where we can take ThinkDIFFERENTLY in the future – and the future is now!”
Following County Executive Molinaro’s release of his 2023 Executive Budget on Nov. 1st, the County Executive and Budget Director Jessica White will host a countywide telephone town hall forum about the plan on Wednesday, Nov. 2nd, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., during which residents can ask questions about the budget and provide their feedback. County Executive Molinaro will also host a pair of in-person town hall forums, each starting at 6 p.m., when residents can learn about key components of the 2023 budget, ask questions and share feedback:

Tuesday, Nov. 15th
Pine Plains Town Hall
3284 Route 199
Pine Plains

Tuesday, Nov. 29th
East Fishkill Town Hall
330 Route 376
Hopewell Junction