Benjamin Barnes is the former Operating Officer for the Bridgeport Public Schools. Recently, he was appointed by Governor Dannel Malloy to serve as the Secretary of the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (OPM). In this new position Mr. Barnes is overseeing the Juvenile Justice and Youth Development program in which he helps initiates programs that provide young people with positive role models and opportunities to participate in recreational, cultural, and skill-development activities.
- Did you always know that you wanted to serve others and help today’s youth?
I have been interested in public service since I was a very young man. I was unemployed – the job market in 1990 was almost as tough as it is now for young people – and I started to volunteer with a mayoral campaign in Philadelphia where I lived. That led me to work on housing and city planning, which inspired me to go to graduate school in those areas.
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
After graduate school, I started working at a housing authority, then at the City of Hartford as a city planner. In the public sector, especially in city planning, so much depends on the ability to get funding for projects and initiatives, and I became more interested in the financing of government. I worked next as a financial analyst for an association of local governments, where I first met Governor (then Mayor) Malloy, who has given me some terrific opportunities over the last 15 years or so.
- How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
I tend to take things in stride and not get discouraged by setbacks. Personal hardships are the most difficult – your children, your personal relationships – but family life is a great way to put professional struggles in perspective.
- I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute your success to.
I have always tried to honor my commitments – to other people, to jobs and institutions both. That, plus some dumb luck.
- What do teens need today more than anything else?
I wish I knew. I think all of our lives are enriched when we are able to see ourselves and our surroundings with empathy and perspective. How we see things, especially ourselves, is so narrow if we don’t make a conscious effort to understand other perspectives.
- What would you tell a teen who was struggling?
Teen years are tough. Stick with what you think is right and you’ll come out of it.
- What else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
Serving others through public service is the greatest work I can imagine. I know that some people seek out government work because it is secure, it has good benefits, or reasons like those. I see its value in the complexity of finding solutions that work for all kinds of people with different goals. It’s endlessly fascinating to me.
- Can you please share with all of us something else that I should have asked you?
Stay involved in your community, and with politics. Even if it’s not the thing that excites you the most, we will all be better off if everyone is paying attention. It doesn’t make a lot of difference right away, but over time democracy works when people are paying attention. Young people barely show up on Election Day every year, and that’s why governments can get away with some of the short-sighted stunts they pull. I have always tried to support people just starting in their lives in my work, but that’s no replacement for young people demanding what they want and need and working to get it.
- How can people get in touch with you if they have additional questions?
Thanks for your time Mr. Benjamin Barnes and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!
Author and Speaker of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series.
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