Person of the Week
Retirement is New Chapter as Diane Tanenbaum Retires from HART United
Diane Tanenbaum was recently honored for her career at HART United, retiring after 38 years of service. (Photo courtesy of Diane Tanenbaum)
When Diane Tanenbaum first started her career, she worked in the education field. After starting her family, however, Diane came across a listing for an executive director for a newly forming non-profit. She was so intrigued by HART United’s mission of helping individuals with developmental disabilities that she applied for the job.
Diane was hired in 1982 with a mission of founding a six-person group home and put her grant-writing skills to work. HART now serves 180 clients throughout Connecticut through its nine group homes, apartments, and foster care. When Diane started, she was the only employee and now in 2021, HART employs about 200 and has an active executive board.
“When I look back, it feels like each chapter was a journey in progressing to help people with a variety of disabilities have a better life and feel integrated into the community,” says Diane. “It feels good to know I’m leaving at a point where the agency is very stable and will go on into the future in a positive way for the best interest of our clients and our employees.”
Diane had decided on retiring in October 2020 before COVID hit. As she prepared for her final months as executive director, the ending to her career was rewritten by the pandemic. As executive director, Diane had to adjust to unprecedented circumstances, working to keep both residents and employees safe.
“I look at March to October as its own chapter,” says Diane. “It was one of the most challenging parts of my career, but also the most rewarding.”
While COVID may have been the most challenging part of Diane’s career, she faced other obstacles, particularly in the early days of building a new non-profit. The need for the organization was realized when, in 1982, many people were being deinstitutionalized, leaving families without options of care for their loved one.
According to www.hartinc.org, HART United maintains a commitment to persons with developmental disabilities, affecting legislative changes that will empower individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to have more choices and opportunities in the community.
The first group home was founded thanks to grants, the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, donations from families, and fundraising efforts that were helped by Dr. Lawrence Tanenbaum, Diane’s husband, who is a dentist in North Haven. The first home was named Lawrence Hall in his honor.
“We were so happy we were able to get people out of these terrible institutions that had dehumanizing practices,” says Diane. “A couple years later, the home was successful, the state was happy, we’d hired a management team and a direct care team, and formed a volunteer board of directors. Three or four years later, we opened The Victory House for six women in Hamden.”
In 1987, Diane and HART faced its biggest challenge yet as the six women from Victory House had progressed through their programs and the agency was looking to move them into two condominiums in Hamden. The condo association attempted to prohibit them from moving in and the case was taken to court. The judge ruled in favor of HART.
“They are now still living there and are wonderful friends with their neighbors,” says Diane. “They have become members of the community. Part of our mission is to make sure clients become meaningful citizens.”
Over the years, Diane’s job has grown to include work with home health agencies, probate courts, and serving as a court-appointed attorney for families in need. Since being hired, Diane continued to learn new skills and adapt the changing needs of her job.
“I could never have written a job description that included not only helping clients, but being part of the community, finance, court systems, and more—it was just the right match for me,” says Diane. “I loved the diversity of my career and I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to be able to serve in this position.”
Another way HART serves its residents is assisting in securing jobs in the community or volunteer work. Students from Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University also have interned with the organization, learning about group homes.
Through HART, Diane became involved with different organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. She also served on Hamden’s Youth Commission and the board of directors for a long-term care facility. She was recognized by the New Haven Chamber of Commerce for her devotion to her career and after her retirement, North Haven First Selectman Mike Freda presented her with a declaration of appreciation for her work.
Though she retired in October, COVID pushed her retirement celebration back to this summer. Diane recently had a “beautiful celebration that was a nice honor and nice closure.” Since retiring, Diane has had more time for the things she enjoys such as walking, yoga, film, friends, and her book group.
Traveling was also a goal in retirement, but due to COVID restrictions, it has been limited. Diane was able to travel to Los Angeles in April to spend a month with her daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and granddog. The trip has been the “highlight of my retirement so far.”
Even though she is officially retired, Diane won’t fully be leaving her career behind. She plans to begin consulting for agencies and families in need. She also plans to spend more time being active in the community. Though she is enjoying retirement, she does miss her job.
“I was very passionate about my job and just so proud of the agency, especially the team and collective group of people I worked with who made our agency strong,” says Diane. “I miss a lot of things about my job, especially the people, but retirement is a new chapter.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .