March 9, 2017
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FEDERATION OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS via itemlive.com
Pictured is Gloria Ricardi Castillo
By STEVE FREKER
MALDEN — Two well-known local women received statewide honors for their work on behalf of disabled children by the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) during last weekend’s annual conference at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.
Malden resident Gloria Ricardi Castillo, a staff director at Northeast Arc, and Malden Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Maura Solari Johnson were presented 2017 Community Partnership Awards at the Visions of Community conference.
Castillo is a native of Chile and moved to Massachusetts as a young newlywed with her husband.
The mother of two girls and a boy, Castillo’s son was diagnosed with autism. When she found it difficult to attend church with her family because of her son’s sensory and behavioral issues, she worked to create a special needs ministry. As a result, parents of children with special needs had the opportunity to fully participate during Sunday services while their children were in Sunday school with their typical peers.
Castillo volunteered for many years at Northeast Arc before accepting a staff position in the family support division. She is currently co-director of the Autism Support Center. Part of her work at the Autism Support Center is to help design outreach strategies for vulnerable communities.
Castillo was instrumental in organizing a Spanish language conference providing training to families. She also helped launch the Touch to Talk program providing an iPad for use as an assistive technology device.
Touch to Talk has become a go-to program for families who otherwise would not be able to access this type of intervention.
“Communication is a basic human right. Our school children who need alternative and augmentative communication assistance are really helped,” said Castillo, noting some 125 families on the North Shore use this program.
Johnson has spent more than 40 years first as a special education teacher and now an administrator. She credits growing up with her sister, Jean, who was disabled with profound disorders, but lived at home cared for by her family, as a major influence in her career choices.
Johnson began her career in the Boston public schools when special education legislation (Chapter 766) and court-ordered desegregation were both implemented. She has experience as a teacher in elementary, middle and high school levels. In her current position she works with interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Grandson.
“I have particularly enjoyed collaborating with parents and colleagues in creating and modifying programs and services to promote more inclusionary opportunities for students,” she said.