Kaitlyn Vitiello ’25
The first time I met Carlos Espinosa it was my first day at Trinity College, full of fear, worry, and anticipation, that was easily settled by the end of our pre-orientation program. Over the course of 3 days Carlos led a group of 12 students in a version of The Amazing Race around Hartford and a bus tour. He made us all excited rather than scared to be in our new home for the next 4 years and told us all about it. He’s lived in Hartford for most of his life and could talk about its history for hours – which he did – and anyone would want to listen. After those first few days at Trinity with Carlos I knew I had started off on the right foot, all because of him.
A year and a half later, entering Trinfo Café, I walk up to the front desk and as I’m explaining that I’m there to interview Carlos, when his head pops out around the corner, a huge smile spreads across his face, under his white peppered beard, and he cheerfully greets me as always. I step into his office and sit on a small, old, vintage, couch directly across from his desk that sits in front of a window and is surrounded by pictures of his family. He sits back in his desk chair, relaxed and ready to talk.
Carlos grew up only about a half a mile away from Trinity College in a neighborhood where he walked to school, had a park as his backyard, and was only the second Hispanic family on the block. At the time there was an arcade, a community service office, and a bowling alley all close by that created an urban oasis for him growing up in Hartford and allowed him to have a good childhood.
Since he is a first generation American for his family, he explains that his mom always emphasized to say he was American-Cuban, and not the other way around because assimilation to the community was encouraged. In elementary school the majority of students were White, but in high school the majority were Latinos and African Americans, which put Carlos in “the other lane” as he described it because to his White friends he was the Spanish kid, but to his Puerto Rican friends, he was the White kid; he always felt like he was in some “middle lane” between the two groups.
He says this even continued into college which he illustrated as “being invited to the coolest party of the year and the host never comes to greet you”. Carlos went to school at Trinity College, just down the road from where he grew up, and when I asked him why he decided to stay so close he explains that he considered going to explore somewhere else like UMich or Georgetown, but ultimately Trinity gave him the best financial aid package and it allowed him to stay close to his family.
At Trinity Carlos originally was studying to be a 3rd grade teacher, something I never personally knew about him. He said that he wanted to focus on 3rd grade because it was such a pivotal point in children’s education as they could begin to fall behind with reading or writing, and he wanted to prevent that and help students succeed. Although I never knew Carlos wanted to be a teacher, it makes perfect sense. I asked my friend Angelina, who was in the pre-orientation group with me about him, and she described him as a people person. Carlos is so great with all of the college students, he would’ve been great with kids too. But, he explained that Hartford was going through a transition in the school systems so he went back to school and got his masters in public policy so that he could work on and in the community instead. And now, he is essentially doing what he wanted to do for the 3rd graders, with college students, since it is such a big transition and pivotal time for most students.
After school he moved to Washington D.C for two years where he worked as a public policy expert with local groups and helped with welfare reform. He then moved back to Hartford and eventually began working at Trinfo Café because one of his friends led it, which he does now as the director. Trinfo Café is an internet cafe for local Hartford residents where they can go to use computers, the internet, and get help with taxes and other online tasks. Carlos explains that he began working at Trinfo because he wanted to give back what Trinity and Hartford had given to him. Trinfo evolves with the community around it from new technology, to adjusting to fit with the college better, and giving Hartford residents what they need, which is what he loves so much about it. I asked him if he had a favorite program that Trinfo ran, but he explained that there wasn’t one, instead his favorite thing was the spirit of Trinfo and its ability to bring together the Trinity community and the Frog Hollow community; bringing together the students and the residents of Hartford. He enjoys being able to help these people build relationships with each other and realize they have more in common than they thought.
“The definition of schizophrenia” is how Carlos described his typical day. He juggles responsibilities across multiple areas from directing Trinfo to overseeing the office of community relations, so he is constantly doing something between the two programs, Trinfo being a major area of work. Some programs he plans through Trinfo include planning activities to support classes with community learning components to further connect the trinity and the Frog Hollow community. They also provide a free tax preparation program through the community learning program that allows students to help residents with their taxes. He too plans in-house and after school programming for the magnet school that is next door, such as tech programs for the kids.
With having so much to do and direct, he characterizes himself as “a fireman looking for smoke before it becomes fire”. One way Carlos prevents the fire is by making sure that anyone he encounters, especially students, feel comfortable and welcomed right away.
He does so with his bright personality and enthusiastic demeanor for anything he takes on, and everyone he’s around absorbs the same energy. When I took part in the pre-orientation program he not only made us feel comfortable with him, but with each other as well; to this day five of us from that program remain friends, and our friendship will last long after our Trinity days – with a huge thanks to Carlos.
He says that he didn’t have a “host” when he came to Trinity, which, whether he realizes it or not, I think made him be the host for so many students, including myself. He had such an effect on me, as he does many students, that I decided to come back early at the beginning of sophomore year to lead the pre-orientation, with two of my friends who felt the same, for the next class of freshman. Carlos helped us have a great start to Trinity, so we all wanted to help at least a few students feel the same way. Angelina explained that “Carlos was the first mentor I interacted with at Trinity, and he was always cheerful, supportive, and gave us the best advice to set us in the right direction”.
We did icebreaker activities with them to get to know everyone and ate dinner together the first day answering all of their questions about Trinity. The next day we held the clues at different locations around Hartford and saw as they became more enthusiastic and comfortable with each other which led them to be – almost – as competitive as we were freshman year. On the final day they were beginning to form friendships, and I still see some of them hanging out together across campus; the feeling of joy from helping bring them together the same way my friends were brought together is incredible and helps me understand why Carlos loves his job so much.
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