Italian Home for Children hires special education veteran

Special to the Gazette

     The Italian Home for Children that is located at 1125 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, announced the hiring of Robert “Bob” Johnson, former President and CEO of Special Olympics of Massachusetts Inc., as the organization’s new Vice President of Agency Advancement.  In this position, Bob will lead fundraising, partnerships, and marketing efforts for the 103-year-old nonprofit mental health organization.

     With more than 40 years of experience in a variety of sectors in special education including teacher, public school administrator, state regulator, non-profit fundraiser and CEO; Johnson joins Italian Home for Children as the agency is expanding its programs and expertise serving children with behavioral health diagnoses, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual and developmental delays.

     “The tremendous history and mighty mission of the Italian Home for Children align perfectly with my lifelong personal mission, to serve children with special needs and mental health issues and help them maximize their potential and personal growth,’’ Johnson said. “I am especially excited to be joining the Italian Home in a role that combines my two great passions: raising money and helping students and families with special needs. I can’t wait to get started helping many more people know about this organization and its great work and growing our community of supporters and partners.”

     Among his many roles prior to joining the Italian Home for Children, Johnson served from 1998-2013 as CEO of the Special Olympics of Massachusetts, Inc. (SOMA), where he led the capital campaign for and oversaw the construction of the Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, Mass., and established several highly successful fundraising and health-related initiatives.

     “Bob is a proven and outstanding leader, and has some of the greatest experience in understanding, working with, and telling the stories of people with special needs,” said Jeff Nothnagle, former Board Chair of SOMA. “His appreciation of inclusion and incredible contributions to the Special Olympics and state of Massachusetts show that he has the passion to strengthen a community and grow support for a purpose-driven mission.”

     Prior to his work at SOMA, Bob worked as the Director of the Bureau of Program Audit and Assistance at the Department of Education’s Division of Special Education, where he worked on the first rewrite of Massachusetts’ landmark 1974 special education law, Chapter 766, and led the drafting of the state’s “Regulations for the Approval of Private Schools Serving Publicly Funded Special Needs Children.”  Today, more than 80 “766-approved” schools throughout the Commonwealth serve thousands of students with the most complex special needs, about two-thirds of them public school district students placed with approved schools through public-private partnerships.

     “We are so pleased to have someone with the knowledge, track record, and dedication as Bob join our already impressive team,” said Susan Keays, CEO of Italian Home for Children. “Throughout his career, Bob has uplifted every institution he has worked with, and the Italian Home is honored to have him aboard as we continue to navigate our path forward from the pandemic and expand our programming, admissions, and partnerships across the state in a time when our services are needed more than ever.”

     Johnson’s appointment will also help support Italian Home for Children’s recent announcement of plans to launch two new Youth Community Crisis Stabilization (YCCS) programs in partnership with Boston Medical Center in early 2023 as well as pioneer a specialty Community Based Acute Treatment (CBAT) program for youth with autism and intellectual/developmental delays, called the Neurodevelopmental Unit (NDU). The NDU is expected to open in late Winter/early Spring 2023. The nonprofit currently offers residential, day, and community-based programming that allows youth and families to strengthen the skills and relationships needed to thrive in their communities.

     Bob earned his B.S.E. and M. Ed Degrees in Education and Special Education Administration from Westfield State University.  In 2010, Bob was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Public Service from Westfield State. He has been married to his college sweetheart, Ellen, for 52 years. Together they have four grown children and 10 grandchildren.

              Founded in 1919, Italian Home for Children promotes the growth and well-being of youth, adults, and families with social, emotional, behavioral and educational needs through a broad range of specialized services, including residential placements, day treatment services, educational programs, and community based mental health treatment. All of the services provided by Italian Home for Children are directed toward the primary goals of reducing acute mental health symptoms, increasing skills, reunification of children with their own or alternative families, and/or the preservation of families at risk. For more information, visit

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