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Community Services Dept. in Good Hands

Zeena Tawfik has a PhD in clinical psychology, so people often ask her what made her change careers and go into city government.

According to Tawfik—who is currently the city’s  Community Services Department’s Acting Administrator—she went into municipal service for several reasons, including a desire to help residents and her belief in the work of Mayor Erin Stewart.

“One question a lot of people ask me is, ‘what made you do this 360 and change careers like that?’” Tawfik told The City Journal last week. “But there are folks in the city who I look up to and admire for them standing up, including the mayor, stepping up and being a young woman and really taking on the task of making the changes necessary in our city.”

Tawfik, 46, is a former psychologist who has overseen the busy Community Services Department since February. “It really is like a customer service office,” explained Tawfik of her department.

“It is kind of the information office as well. Everyone comes into our office to ask any question from ‘how do I get affordable housing?’ To ‘what do I do if my son or daughter just got in trouble and now has to do community service?’” said Tawfik. “People might just come in to say, ‘I need a permit—where do I go?’ I think after the mayor’s office, it’s the second place people come to for information.”

Tawfik explained that her department is divided into three sections. “One is disabilities, the other is fair housing, and the third piece is youth and family services,” she detailed.

Prior to becoming the acting administrator for Community Services—a position she took when Chris Montes retired earlier this year—Tawfik was the mayor’s outreach coordinator for roughly a year. Before that, she ran the clinical trials office at the UConn Cancer Center in Farmington.

“For the past five years at UConn, I had moved Into running the clinical trials office, which was overseeing all the research and analysis and writing papers and journals and stuff,” she said. “The mayor came into office in November 2013 and I was still just volunteering with her and still working a little bit at my old job at the cancer center in Farmington. And then she asked me to join her team, so I resigned from UConn in January 2014 and became her outreach coordinator.”

Tawfik currently oversees a staff of almost 10 people in the Community Services Department. “There’s the youth advocate, the fair housing technician, and a disabilities specialist,” she said of her staff. “We have about three interns, we have a therapist who supervises the interns and we have two others who are out there in the field for me working on projects that happen around the school system with special needs kids.”

As one might imagine, Tawfik currently has a lot on her plate. In fact, her current duties/projects are a lengthy list and include being Youth & Family Services Director; New Britain Sister City Administrator; New Britain Commission on the Arts Administrator; point person for Building Hope Together: Mayor’s Task Force to End Homelessness; Director, Greater New Britain Arts Alliance; Board member, Trinity on Main; New Britain Wellness Initiative Coordinator and New Britain Marketing Initiative point person (among many others).

“When you look at my list [of responsibilities], it looks like a lot, but I take it one day at a time and drink a little bit of herbal tea every day,” joked Tawfik.

When asked what her favorite part of being a city employee is, Tawfik pointed to “being a part of our community,” adding, “I loved what I did at UConn, but it could be depressing at times. I loved being part of the treatment plan for folks and you can see a lot of strength in people when they are dealing with illness. But here I feel like I am part of the community and my family is part of the community. That’s my favorite part—being part of the community and really seeing the wealth of our city.”