‘A Real Gift’: STAR Inc. Executive Director Katie Banzhaf To Retire After 40 Years


L-R: Meghan Cioffi, Katie Banzhaf, Adriano Gatto. Photo courtesy of STAR Inc.

The head of a decades-old nonprofit organization that has an office in New Canaan is retiring after 40 years of service.

L-R: Katie Banzhaf and Trish Elmore. Photo courtesy of STAR Inc.

Katie Banzhaf, executive director of STAR Inc.—established in 1952 and serving individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families—has aided in the advancement of pediatric therapy services, paid employment opportunities for people with IDD, inclusion in schools and the community, improved accessibility with ADA, residential and supported housing options, assistive technology and smart homes, senior memory care and sending individuals to college. 

“My passion has always been around the employment of people with special needs,” Banzhaf told NewCanaanite.com. “At a very early age, I just realized that life could be better for people with special needs. I wanted to be part of that.” 

L-R: Lauren Patterson and Katie Banzhaf. Photo courtesy of STAR Inc.

The Cincinnati native got her start volunteering at what was formerly known as the Orient State School, an institution for people with mental health and IDD, as a teenager. On Tuesdays, Banzhaf and her peers would visit and take the residents out into the community. 

While working for Marc Gold & Associates as a consultant and providing training on systematic instruction and job placement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities around the country and worldwide, Banzhaf received a call from STAR and the rest is history. 

“I’ve now had a 40-year history here at STAR and I’ve watched so many of our clients grow up. People that were in our infant services are now in jobs,” Banzhaf said. “The continuity with the clients and being able to see them grow and with their families has been a real gift.”

L-R: Joseph Piscitell, Jack Piscitell, Katie Banzhaf. Photo courtesy of STAR Inc.

Banzhaf has watched kids graduate high school, go to college, obtain paid jobs and get married; things she said were nonexistent when her career began in the ‘80s. Jobs even include DJing: Banzhaf told NewCanaanite.com of how proud she is of Joey Agostino (also known as DJ Joe) who works full time at a flower shop while pursuing his passion in music. Another young man supported by STAR started his own vending machine business. 

“It’s somebody believing in them and saying let’s do everything in our power to support them,” Banzhaf said. “There’s a lot of people who I really consider not just colleagues and clients that we serve, but very good friends and family.” 

STAR manages the New Canaan Group Home, has an office on 111 Elm St. and has served hundreds of people in the community, Banzhaf said. 

MaryGrace Giuliano will succeed her in the position on Jan. 8. STAR’s is headquartered in Norwalk.

L-R: Valerie Clark, State of CT OPM, State Sen. Bob Duff, Wyatt Davis, State Rep. Lucy Dathan, Katie Banzhaf, STAR Executive Director. Photo courtesy of STAR Inc.

New Canaan’s Meghan Cioffi, president of STAR Board of Directors, said in a press release that the organization “has been impressed with MaryGrace throughout the interview process and the entire board agrees that she is an excellent candidate to carry on Katie’s legacy and to lead STAR going forward.”

“We are confident that she has all the competencies and compassion to continue STAR’s successful rise into the future,” Cioffi said. “I realize that this announcement probably feels bittersweet, as it also means that Katie’s departure is near. However, it also means that Katie can retire, as she wishes to do, and embark on world travels and new adventures. We look forward to celebrating Katie and all that she has done for STAR”.  

L-R: Tracey Duff, Joe Agostino, Katie Banzhaf, State Sen. Bob Duff. Photo courtesy of Star Inc.

Banzhaf said she’s looking forward to traveling and reconnecting with friends she made during her time in England with Marc Gold & Associates. She’s also interested in continuing her passion in gardening. 

“I’ve really worked hard to make sure I’ve done a lot of lobbying with the state so that we can offer better wages and better benefits,” she said. “There’s still more work to be done with that as well. But STAR has really become a family and I hope it continues to have that feeling and it’s a place that people want to work.”

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