Wilton Family Y Special-needs coordinator joins YMCA team

Although Christina Foley began her career in public relations — first with Xerox, then with Gartner Group — she has always played an active role in volunteering, particularly helping those with special needs.

A Wilton resident for 22 years, living on Quail Ridge Road, Ms. Foley shifted professions about 10 years ago to make her passion for activism a career, and began working as a substitute teacher and program aide for Wilton public schools.

Just recently, she was contacted by the Wilton Family Y, which is looking for a new special needs coordinator. Ms. Foley — who has been immersed in helping those with disabilities since childhood — accepted the offer, officially a part-time position that will likely require significant time and involvement, and said she is looking forward to enhancing and expanding YMCA programs for people with disabilities.

Ms. Foley, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Denison University, advanced three children through the town’s public school system, all of whom served on the board of Wilton High’s Best Buddies program, a nonprofit mentoring group dedicated to professionally guiding students with disabilities. The program also emphasizes developing friendships and participating in various recreational events, from athletics such as bowling and basketball to casual meetings, including grabbing a hot chocolate at Starbucks.

Ms. Foley officially accepted her new role in March, and plans to balance her workload with her paraprofessional responsibilities at Middlebrook.

Ever since childhood, growing up alongside a brother with “severe autism” and a mother, Janet Rikhoff, who was very encouraging of volunteerism, Ms. Foley took to mentoring and community participation.

“My mom used to drive my brother to New York twice a week for special training for reading and writing,” Ms. Foley said. “There was a time when they said he would never catch a baseball, he would never ride a bike,” she said. “I grew up in a very rural part of New Jersey, and at the time there were no programs for him; now these programs are inclusive with public schools.”

Along with being involved with special needs programs at a young age, Ms. Foley said, she remains close with contemporary family friends with disabilities such as Down syndrome.

“Throughout my life there has been a very strong presence of people with disabilities,” she said.

Since moving to Wilton, Ms. Foley has also been involved with athletics programs, including directing the Nutmeg Tournament of the Wilton Soccer Association, and she was on the board of science for Wilton’s preschool program.

Her role at the YMCA will consist of working one-on-one with students, and expanding and developing various programs, such as camp and Wilton’s program offering for the Special Olympics.

“We are looking to expand all of our programs across the board, for children and adults,” she said. “We are trying to re-establish and grow our Special Olympics program.”

“Currently we just added track and field [for Special Olympics]. We used to do aquatics, and I’m bringing the aquatics back,” she said.

The Wilton Family Y also will be offering a Special Olympics program for gymnastics. Eleven students have so far registered for Wilton Y’s Special Olympics summer program, and 48 children with disabilities were enrolled in the Y’s summer camp last year. This summer, more are expected.

Ms. Foley said she is excited to be a part of Wilton Y’s program, and said people often misunderstand certain disabilities facing children and adults, as well as the abilities of those who face certain physical challenges.

“The word disability is not an accurate description. These are people who live their lives in different ways, and it is inspirational to be around these people,” she said.

Ms. Foley is available at cfoley@wiltonymca.org or 203-762-8384, ext. 207. Information: wiltonymca.org.