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Joe Barber is the Director of the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement
Let’s start with: where are you from where did you grow up?
I grew up in Winsted, Connecticut (fun fact: that’s the hometown of Ralph Nader). I received a B.A. in Sociology in 1992 (summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and an MPA in 1994—both from the University of Connecticut. I have lived in Hartford since 1996 and I’ve been a homeowner in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood since 1999. Currently, I’m on the boards of the Frog Hollow NRZ committee, Night Fall and the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. I work on Asking for a Friend with Chion Wolf—a live advice show at Sea Tea Comedy Theater—and play alto saxophone in the Hartford Hot Several Brass Band.
Tell us about yourself and your work at Trinity College. What does a day in the life look like?
I’ve been with the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement for 22 years–since October of 1996—and been director for about 16 years. I usually start my day at Peter B’s for some coffee and check in on my first round of emails for the day. Then I go to my office and do paperwork, pay bills, take and make calls, and attend to any of the other non-ending administrative details that go into keeping an office going. Throughout the day students come and go, and a good portion of the time is spent meeting and working with students on the various projects and events of the Office.
You’ve been at Trinity for a long time. What are you proudest of in your work?
What has been most heartening is to look over the Office’s body of work and see a range of projects that are diverse in content as well as longevity. We have over 20 ongoing programs and partnerships as well as about the same number of annual projects. There are projects like Halloween on Vernon Street and our Thanksgiving Drive that have been around for over20 years, as well as new partnerships and programs like Jumpstart and Trinity Homelessness Project that started just last year.
In addition, we’ve made a concerted effort throughout my time here to broaden the idea of what is community service (hence the full name of the office being community service and civic engagement). Community service should be thought of as service to democracy that involves continually enlarging the circle of people involved and engaged in society. So, yes, it’s about tutoring and mentoring, food pantries, food drives and toy drives, cleaning parks, and building houses, but it’s also about human rights, the environment, art, social entrepreneurship, community building, and dialogue about social issues and community. This approach has allowed the Office to have great diversity in the work we are able to do in Hartford and how we promote Hartford as our home, as well as providing many opportunities that emphasize the importance of being an involved and active citizen in a democratic society.
What are some projects your office has done people should know about?
One of them is the Bantam Bus Pass (originally the U-Pass) which we started (in partnership with CT Transit) in the Fall of 1999. It provides all students free transportation all local CT Transit and the CT Fastrak buses. It’s important because it gets people out of their cars and out using public transportation. It’s good for the environment and it allows students to get to know Hartford in a more intimate way.
Some of the other projects that we are known for (or at least should be) are Do It Day, Halloween on Vernon Street, Trinity Film Festival, our Thanksgiving drive, Sponsor-a-Snowman holiday gift drive for Interval House, Backpack Nutrition Program, sustainability projects (recycling, composting, etc.), Place of Grace Food Pantry, the Coop thrift shop and the Jones-Zimmerman Academic Mentoring Program at HMTCA.. We also have long-standing officially recognized campus chapters of Amnesty International, Best Buddies, ConnPIRG, Habitat for Humanity, and Lions Club.
What are some of your favorite memories at Trinity?
That’s a tough one for me. I’ve been doing this for a long time and there really are so many. But honestly some of my favorite memories are right here around this table in Mather basement when I’ve been working with students on different projects or just talking about life. It really is this space where the ideas come to be. It really is a co-working environment; I can’t work without them and they can’t work without me. And when we see a project through to successful completion, those are the really nice moments.
What else should people know about you?
I usually run every day at lunchtime, and I am the team liaison/advisor for Trinity’s men’s and women’s cross-country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams.