Trinfo.Café: Connecting Hartford and Trinity College
Mary Meza ’22 remembers walking to Trinfo.Café for the first time at the beginning of her first year at Trinity College. She was on her way to interview for the position of educational assistant when she paused at the edge of campus and thought, “Am I going in the right direction? Am I supposed to step out?” Meza, now a sophomore, laughs at the memory of feeling hesitant to interact with Trinity’s home city. “I did [step out]. And I’m so grateful that I did. I get to see a different perspective of Hartford—what Hartford can be.”
Students who follow Meza’s lead and step off of the main Trinity campus at the end of Vernon Street onto Broad Street will find the Trinfo.Café building, a community space open to the public, staffed by a team of 15 Trinity students. Trinfo is part of Trinity’s Center for Hartford Engagement & Research, which strengthens educational partnerships between Hartford’s diverse communities and the students, staff, and faculty at Trinity.
When Trinfo first opened its doors to the public in 2000, it was an “internet café”-style technology center aimed at bridging the digital divide. Carlos Espinosa, the director of Trinfo.Café and Trinity’s Office of Community Relations, says that Trinfo started evolving into a broader community space about eight years ago, when the Trinity College Community Garden was created on the property. The 2018 merger of Trinfo with Trinity’s Office of Community Relations has accelerated this evolution and opened Trinfo up to expanded community programming. Trinfo still works to provide access to technology and computer literacy, while also serving as a gathering space for a variety of activities.
Student-workers are at the center of this transformation, leading in the planning and execution of a broad spectrum of public events in collaboration with student clubs and college departments. These events include open mic nights, free tax preparation, paint nights, yoga classes, game nights, and much more. Espinosa says, “Students are facilitating opportunities to bring students and Hartford residents together, in order to build relationships and break down misperceptions of one another.” He hopes Trinfo can be a gateway for students to get involved in the community; likewise, he also hopes it connects residents to the college’s resources and serves as a point of entry that helps neighbors feel welcome on campus.
While the initiative to host more community events at Trinfo is new, its student leadership is not. Working at Trinfo, students apply their liberal arts education in a variety of real-world situations: They serve as tutors for community residents learning computer skills; they teach youth participants in local after-school programs and develop the curriculum for these programs; and they also help patrons of Trinfo’s computer lab by answering technology questions, handling printing services, and maintaining the facility. About half of the student-workers are fluent in Spanish, making Trinfo a welcoming space to Hartford’s diverse Hispanic community.
Trinfo is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. during the week and 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Students working at the front desk interact with the public every day. Meza says working there has helped shape how she envisions her future because she’s learned that she enjoys working with people. “It has bettered my communication skills and confidence to speak up and communicate with other people when you don’t know them,” Meza says.
Trinfo Educational Assistant Kayla Betts ’21, who grew up in Hartford, has had a similar experience. She says, “It’s solidified that I’m able to work with different types of people and different types of personalities.” As an aspiring medical doctor, Betts knows this is crucial. “I’m not uncomfortable talking. I have so many different conversations with so many different people all the time,” she says.
Teaching youth programming builds skills by encouraging students to grow from failure. Betts says she enjoys the process of designing curriculum and putting the curriculum into action as a teacher: “Not everything goes as planned. It’s a lot of trial and error. It’s rewarding to know: ‘Ok, this didn’t work. But next time, I can try something else.’” She’s had a lot of practice going with the flow. “It’s good to have a plan, but also be able to handle the change,” she says.
Everything Trinfo offers to the community is made possible by student staff. Bea Dresser ’22, who also grew up in Hartford, reflects on her experience at Trinfo, recognizing that people depend on her for help with vital tasks. She feels it’s an experience unlike being part of a class or club. “You work. You have a purpose. You have real responsibilities all the time,” she says.
Written by Arianna Basche, program manager, Trinfo.Café & Community Relations