Drawn by music scene, he raises a family in New London
Jefferey Hart has loved New London ever since coming here in high school to see music shows at venues like the former El N' Gee Club.
He bought his guitars at Caruso Music, where he'd hang out and "bother" the guys who worked there. A child of the '90s, he preferred grunge and rock music.
"The arts and music scene in New London has been a huge draw and a huge network. It's given me a solid base of people that I would miss if I went anywhere else," said Hart, 35, during an interview at the Washington Street Coffee House, surrounded by school books and a laptop.
Hart grew up in Uncasville, a quiet and rural upbringing — his family had sheep and 5 acres of land, so there wasn't much interaction with neighbors.
"There were some great things about that looking back at it, but it seemed kind of boring at the time," he said.
He gave college a try but dropped out early on to pursue music full-time. For about five years, he was the front man for a seven-piece funk band "with a rock edge" called Naughty Jungle of Love, made up of classmates from Eastern Connecticut State University. At first, they were terrible, he said, "but five years later, we were playing big stages."
When that ended, he found another garage band and "whipped them into shape," then an acoustic trio in Westerly. After that, he moved to San Francisco to live with a friend for a couple of months to give it one last shot.
When in San Francisco, he missed Connecticut. He missed New London. But mostly, he missed the people here.
"Wherever you go, you find creative and interesting people, but the deep and long connections are here," he said. "After that, I made the decision to throw down roots. It was a very deliberate decision."
At the higher end of the millennial generation, Hart is atypical in that he's married with children and owns a home.
Owner of his own painting business since around 2007, he paid cash for a "major fixer upper" on Georgiana Street in New London, the best thing he could think to do with the little bit of money he had in the bank.
"Having a variable income as a contractor, it's feast or famine. Having a house like that with low overhead is kind of the only way of making it," he said. "I'm very transparent about the fact that I'm working class. I don't make a lot of money. I don't have an advanced degree."
"Not that I'm not working on it," he added.
He's gone back to school and is studying for an associate degree in construction management from Three Rivers Community College. A married father of two young sons with another child on the way, Hart recently won a seat on New London's Board of Education.
Not unlike most, Hart started paying more attention to politics after turning 18 and starting to vote. He paid close attention to the health care debates under President Barack Obama because it was an issue that affected him as a contractor without health coverage.
That led to his involvement in Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and the Democratic Party. People noticed his enthusiasm and began asking if he'd be interested in running for the school board.
"I kept swearing that I was going to wait until the kids were older and they were all in school," he said. But Zak Leavy, a former member of the board, "finally twisted" his arm and convinced him to run.
During the campaign, Hart's weekends were spent knocking on doors.
"I'm well known in the arts community, but that's not the whole town, and the first district is big," he said. "You have a big advantage being a Democrat, but it's not enough to win without trying."
His pitch was regional cooperation — he sees it as a way to help cash-strapped towns and municipalities while still providing vital community services.
"If we were to regionalize, we might be in a very good position to serve the surrounding community and be rewarded for our investment at the same time," he said. "You don't get those opportunities very often."
Millennials in Connecticut
Millennials — those between 20 and 36 as of this year — represent the largest population group in Connecticut, at more than 927,000. But the group is shrinking. From 2010 to 2016, Connecticut lost 0.6 percent of its millennial population, a migration rate higher than all but 13 states, according to the U.S. Census.
In 2014, more than 17,000, or 7 percent, of young adults in the 20-24 age group moved out of Connecticut, according to the Census.
A lack of a hip urban center and the social life it offers, and a dearth of good-paying jobs, particularly in technology, are often cited as the reasons. Some just don't like snow and cold.
Others, though, have decided to stay in Connecticut or relocate here. This week, The Day is profiling seven millennials who are drawn by the area's diversity, small-town feel, activism, creative energy and noncorporate job opportunities.
Read other articles in the series at www.theday.com/2017millennials.
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