Retirement is a new chapter as Diane Tanenbaum retires from HART United
By Jenn McCulloch / Zip06.com • 02/09/2021 8:30 AM EST
When Diane Tanenbaum started her career, she was working in education. After starting her family, however, Diane stumbled across an executive director list for a new nonprofit organization. She was so intrigued by HART United’s mission to help people with intellectual disabilities that she applied for the job.
Diane was hired in 1982 with the mission of founding a group home for six people and using her grant writing skills. HART now serves 180 clients throughout Connecticut through its nine group homes, apartments and homestays. When Diane started she was the only employee and now, in 2021, HART employs around 200 people and has an active board of directors.
“When I look back, I feel like each chapter has been a journey to help people with various disabilities have better lives and feel included in the community,” says Diane. “It feels good to know that I am leaving at a time when the agency is very stable and will continue to evolve in a positive way in the best interests of our clients and our employees.”
Diane had decided to retire in October 2020 before COVID hit. As she prepared for her final months as Executive Director, the end of her career was rewritten by the pandemic. As General Manager, Diane has had to adapt to unprecedented circumstances, working to keep residents and employees safe.
“I consider March to October as its own chapter,” explains Diane. “It was one of the most difficult parts of my career, but also the most rewarding.”
While COVID may have been the hardest part of Diane’s career, she has faced other hurdles, especially when starting to form a new nonprofit. The need for organization was felt when in 1982, many people were deinstitutionalized, leaving families without the possibility of caring for their loved ones.
According to www.harinc.org, HART United maintains a commitment to people with developmental disabilities, affecting legislative changes that will allow people with developmental disabilities and their families to have more choices and opportunities in the community.
The first group home was founded with grants, the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, family donations and fundraising efforts which were helped by Dr Lawrence Tanenbaum, Diane’s husband, who is a dentist at North Haven. The first house was named Lawrence Hall in his honor.
“We were so happy to have been able to get people out of these terrible institutions that had dehumanizing practices,” explains Diane. “A few years later the home was successful, the state was happy, we had 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 their biggest challenge yet as the six women at Victory House progressed through their programs and the agency looked to move them into two condominiums in Hamden. The condominium association tried to ban them from moving in and the case went to court. The judge ruled in favor of HART.
“They still live there and are wonderful friends with their neighbors,” says Diane. “They became members of the community. Part of our mission is to make sure customers become meaningful citizens. “
Over the years, Diane’s work has grown to include working with home health agencies, estate courts, and serving as duty counsel for families in need. Since being hired, Diane has continued to learn new skills and adapt to the changing needs of her job.
“I could never have written a job description that included not only helping clients but also being part of the community, finance, justice systems etc. “I have loved the diversity of my career and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be able to take on this role.
Another way HART serves its residents is by helping find jobs in the community or volunteering. Students from Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University also interned with the organization, learning about group homes.
Thanks to HART, Diane got involved in various organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. She also served on the Hamden Youth Commission and on the board of directors of a long-term care facility. She was recognized by the New Haven Chamber of Commerce for her dedication to her career and after her retirement, North Haven head coach Mike Freda presented her with a statement of appreciation for her work.
Although she retired in October, COVID has postponed her retirement celebration until this summer. Diane recently had a “beautiful celebration which was a great honor and a beautiful closing”. Since retiring, Diane has had more time for the things she enjoys such as walking, yoga, movies, friends and her book group.
Traveling was also a goal in retirement, but due to COVID restrictions it was 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 will not give up her career entirely. She plans to begin counseling for agencies and families in need. She also plans to spend more time being active in the community. Although she is enjoying her retirement, she misses her job.
“I was very passionate about my work and so proud of the agency, especially the team and group of people I worked with and who made our agency strong,” says Diane. “I miss a lot of things in my job, especially people, but retirement is a new chapter. “