Community service runs through Diane Arnold’s blood – it’s practically her DNA. As a young child, she watched her mother devote her life to improving Indianapolis’ Near Westside community as executive director of Hawthorne Community Center. “I grew up with a sense of community and caring for other people’s needs, I’ve never known anything but that,” she said.
Her mother’s devotion to Hawthorne inspired Arnold to begin working there at 15. When her mother decided to retire after 25 years of service, the idea to become executive director set in. “I think the influence she had on me of the importance of the work and my respect for her made me want to continue her legacy and go on to create my own,” she stated.
During her 31 years as executive director, Arnold has made Hawthorne a leader in early childhood education, developed the Hawthorne Endowment and successfully ran a capital campaign that raised $3.5 million. She was named one of the top 20 neighborhood visionaries by LISC Indianapolis and received the Sagamore of the Wabash, one of the state’s highest awards, for her work at Hawthorne and on the IPS board.
Arnold’s deep-rooted passion for community is why she’s spent 50 years at Hawthorne. “I live three doors down from the agency, it really is my community and every aspect of my life is focused there. I take great pride in trying to make my community a better place for other people,” she said.
Hawthorne runs on a philosophy instilled by her parents: If you walk in for any reason, you became part of the family. “Not only are we there to support you, those who come in help others too,” she shared. Arnold believes that helping people is about giving them a hand up so down the road they have the capacity to lend a hand out and lift up someone else.
Alrthough she officially retired in December of 2017, that feeling of family Arnold has established at Hawthorne will live on for many years to come, thanks to the thousands of families she has helped. “I love it when kids grow up in Hawthorne and come back to visit and bring their family, or young people who were in preschool come back and want to work for me. It tells me that at a time in their life that agency was important for them and they want to help make that experience important for others.”