Kennedy Center dedicates building to retiring CEO

For 39 years, Martin D. Schwartz’s presence has loomed over The Kennedy Center as its first president and CEO. Now, with his retirement nearing, the Kennedy Center board is making sure his name remains connected with the center, as the agency’s Trumbull headquarters was named after him in a Monday morning ceremony attended by dozens of staff members, volunteers, clients, and elected officials from throughout the region.

“All our board members felt it was fitting to commemorate Marty’s many achievements and dedicate the Reservoir Avenue headquarters in his honor,” said Kennedy Center board Chairman Michele Macauda of Monroe. “He has certainly been one of the biggest advocates in the state of Connecticut for people with disabilities. Marty’s leadership and foresight is recognized both in Connecticut and throughout the country.”

Schwartz was also recently feted at the Kennedy Center’s 53rd Annual Four Seasons Ball at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton, attended by a  sold-out crowd of 300 guests.

The charity event raised approximately $170,000  for The Kennedy Center’s residential services for people with disabilities. Since its inception in 1965, the Four Seasons Ball has contributed over $2.3 million to The Kennedy Center and is one of the longest-running, most popular charity galas in Fairfield County.

Proceeds from the ball will benefit The Kennedy Center’s residential services for people with disabilities, including: 16 group homes; a supported living option program, a family support and respite service, and the nationally recognized Caring for the Caregiver Program that offers support for parents of family members who are developmentally disabled.

Well-wishers and legislators throughout the state and country sent congratulatory letters to Schwartz for nearly four decades of achievements. He received several standing ovations and was recognized for his lasting impact on tens of thousands of people with and without disabilities.
When Schwartz came to The Kennedy Center in 1978, this small community-based rehabilitation organization was a grassroots non-profit founded in 1951 by Evelyn Kennedy and 12 parents. At the time, the agency served fewer than 200 adults with intellectual disabilities, employed 48 staff members, and operated with an annual budget of $776,000. Now The Kennedy Center annually serves more than 2,000 individuals with a variety of disabilities, from birth through their senior years, employs over 750 staff, and operates with an annual $32-million budget. Today, the agency is one of the largest employers in the region and one of the largest rehabilitation organizations in the state.

During his tenure at The Kennedy Center, new needs evolved in the community where program services were limited or non-existent. Schwartz found the funding for these new initiatives and created one groundbreaking program after another. Some examples include Travel Training, Caring for the Caregiver and the Norma F. Pfriem Alzheimer’s Center at Faust Hall, all of which were firsts in Connecticut to address these needs. Schwartz also oversaw two major million-dollar capital campaigns that led to the center’s expansion.

Schwartz said he could not think of a greater honor than to have his name on the building where he had worked for decades. In brief comments after the official ribbon-cutting, he deflected praise to the staff and volunteers.

“I am so proud to have been part of this organization for going on 39 years,” Schwartz said. “Making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities takes dedicated people, and from the staff to the volunteers in the thrift shop and the people serving on the board, you can’t find better people than the people we have had here.”

In addition to his work with The Kennedy Center, Schwartz has served as president of the Trumbull Chamber of Commerce, president of the Probus Club of Greater Bridgeport, and president of the Connecticut Community Providers Association. In 2000, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Bridgeport. Other honors have included the Regional Leadership Award from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council; the Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award from the Bridgeport Dental Association; Probian of the Year from the Probus Club of Bridgeport; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Community Providers Association; and the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission Humanitarian Award.