Skip to main content

County Hosts 5th Annual ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ Conference

Published: 12/2/2021

Poughkeepsie, NY … As Dutchess County prepares to recognize International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Friday, County Executive Marc Molinaro and Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs Toni-Marie Ciarfella today hosted the County’s fifth annual Collaboration of Services and Care Across the Life Span for People with Special Needs, a virtual ThinkDIFFERENTLY conference for families and providers to discuss planning care for someone with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The event, which attracted dozens of families and providers, concludes this afternoon.

County Executive Molinaro said, “It is vital that those with special needs and their families have an easy way to navigate through all the providers and services available to them. This annual conference is a great way to support these families, like my own, to be able to have a clear understanding and knowledge of the wealth of resources available. This event brings families and providers together to learn best practices for care as they assist their loved one through all stages of life. The connections made through this conference make a lifelong impact. Dutchess County is delighted to facilitate these connections and support those of all abilities throughout our area.”

Karla Vermeulen, PHD, Deputy Director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health and the Associate Professor of Psychology at SUNY New Paltz provided this morning’s keynote address, discussing developmental tasks that characterize adolescence and emerging adulthood, multiple stressors young people experience today and how to apply these concepts to a child’s individual functional levels. 

Additionally, a group discussion including panelists from the County’s departments of Community and Family Services and Behavioral & Community Health, as well as local services providers and state offices, will this afternoon share insight and answer questions about eligibility and services for individuals with disabilities, from birth to childhood. 

Deputy Commissioner Toni Ciarfella, PHD, shared, “We have a wonderful community committed to ThinkDIFFERENTLY and I am so proud we can offer the fifth annual conference, as it is so important for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities to have the most updated references and resources available to them and their families. Information is always available on our website but this conference opens the dialogue between individuals, families, and providers, offering additional supports. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to protect and provide for all those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Coming together to collaborate is the best way to create inclusion for all.” 
Established by County Executive Molinaro in 2015, the ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative seeks to change the way individuals, businesses, organizations and communities relate to individuals with disabilities. Following Dutchess County’s example, more than 100 municipalities throughout New York State – and several others across the nation – have passed ThinkDIFFERENTLY resolutions, committing to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals of all abilities.

More information about Dutchess County’s efforts to ThinkDIFFERENTLY, as well as ways communities can be more supportive of those of every ability, is available at