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Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs Dr. Toni-Marie Ciarfella Retires

Published: 2/22/2022

Poughkeepsie … Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has announced the retirement of Dr. Toni-Marie Ciarfella, the County’s Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, following more than five years of service.

County Executive Molinaro said, “Since joining Dutchess County Government in 2016, Toni has been a tireless advocate for residents and visitors living with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities, bringing our award-winning ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative of inclusion to new heights. Throughout Dutchess County, Toni is renowned for her passion – helping those with special needs find greater access within their community to reach their fullest potential. Whether through her daily advocacy on behalf of those with disabilities and their families, or by organizing successful events that bring the community together to ThinkDIFFERENTLY, Toni has contributed greatly to the special-needs community, and Dutchess County as a whole, and I wish her well in the next chapter of her life.”

County Executive Molinaro appointed Dr. Ciarfella as Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, the first such position of its kind in New York State, in September 2016. County Executive Molinaro empowered Dr. Ciarfella to create cultural change in working with all Dutchess County residents and to promote inclusion, acceptance and provide education toward that change in both county government and the local community.

Prior to joining Dutchess County Government, Dr. Ciarfella spent 30 years serving individuals with special needs and all abilities, beginning her career at the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie serving as a Senior Child Care Worker. She went on to work for Greystone Programs, Green Briar Adult Home and Vassar Brothers Medical Center. In 1989, Dr. Ciarfella began a tenure that spanned more than 20 years with the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (Taconic DDSO) in a variety of positions of increasing responsibility, with her last position being the Treatment Team Leader for Campus & Community Connections and District Forensic Liaison.

As Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, Dr. Ciarfella served as an advocate for thousands of individuals and families with special needs and abilities, helping them navigate a network of services, programs and providers which can often be complicated, to find the correct solution for each individual’s unique circumstances. Dr. Ciarfella worked closely with various community agencies and County departments that provide services and resources for residents with disabilities and special needs, including the departments of Community and Family Service (DCFS), Planning and Development, Emergency Response, Behavioral and Community Health (DBCH), and Public Works, as well as the Office for the Aging.

Dr. Ciarfella’s accomplishments include, among others:

•    Partnering with the Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board, to convene local employers to discuss the benefits of hiring those with disabilities at the County’s annual “Think Jobs” roundtable discussion, resulting in an increase in employment opportunities for this vastly underutilized workforce;

•    Playing an instrumental role in the creation of the “Think Ahead” program, a collaboration with Abilities First, Arc of the Greater Hudson Valley, Maplebrook School, Taconic Resources of Independence and Dutchess Community College, which offers qualified students the opportunity to enjoy a full college experience, including on-campus employment opportunities, while gaining valuable work and life skills;

•    Partnering with DBCH Community Health nursing to create a special needs healthcare committee with agency local providers, resulting in numerous community trainings, including among others, Annual ThinkDIFFERENTLY Conference, Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment Training for healthcare providers, Autism Training for First Responders, Trauma in Childhood and Sexuality and Individuals Living with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, as well as the continued Autism Supportive Environment Training, in collaboration with the Anderson Center for Autism;

•    Designing and overseeing the highly nationally recognized, award-winning website, an invaluable asset for those with special needs, their families and community agencies;

•    Assisting in coordination of the County’s hosting of the Special Olympics New York Summer and Winter Games;

•    Collaborating with the Dutchess County Agricultural Society to offer ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday at the Dutchess County Fair, providing those with special needs and their families early entry into the fair and a sensory-friendly midway experience, and in 2021, expanding the program to a full week of activities, outreach and resources;

•    Organizing dozens of COVID-19 vaccination Points of Dispensing (PODs) for those with special needs and outreach for Direct Support Staff to encourage vaccination to help protect this vulnerable population; and

•    Organizing successful, inclusive events, including the annual ThinkDIFFERENTLY Picnic, sensory-friendly movie days and performances at the Bardavon 1986 Opera House, ThinkDIFFERENTLY Town Hall for Direct Support Professionals, a drive-through ThinkDIFFERENTLY picnic, the annual Collaboration of Services and Care Across the Life Span for People with Special Needs conference, the ThinkDIFFERENTLY Dash, the inaugural ThinkDIFFERENTLY Field & Fitness Day and aforementioned “Think Jobs” event.

Dr. Ciarfella officially retires on Feb. 22, 2022. 

Dr. Ciarfella said, “I have been honored to serve Dutchess County for the last five-plus years, working daily to improve the lives of those throughout Dutchess County living with special needs. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity County Executive Molinaro provided me to make positive impacts on the residents we serve, and I thank all those with whom I’ve worked – both those within County government and our community partners – for their commitment to making ThinkDIFFERENTLY an integral part of our county. Though I now turn the page, Dutchess County and my commitment to the special-needs community will remain forever in my heart. I look forward to seeing what the next steps for ThinkDIFFERENTLY will be and wholeheartedly thank the County Executive and Dutchess County Legislature for having the foresight and courage to embrace the ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative here and promote it across New York State.”

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 by recognizing their abilities. 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.

County Executive Molinaro said, “Toni has been a ThinkDIFFERENTLY champion, drawing upon her experience and zeal, standing up for everyone of every ability in Dutchess County and beyond. She has been a leader, giving life to our vision, and the County’s efforts will continue because of the strong legacy she leaves behind.”