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06/05/2019 08:30 AM

Dara Onofrio: A Quick Connection to Clinton

Some in Clinton best know Dara Onofrio as the person who accompanies Jessie the therapy dog (at right) at The Morgan School and Maggy (left) and Jessie around town, though she’s also taken a prominent role in town government as chair of the Board of Finance. Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News

“It was probably one of the most terrifying moment of my life,” says Dara Onofrio.

Dara is describing the night in fall 2012 when Hurricane Sandy smacked the northeast. At the time, Dara was living outside of New York City on the Hudson River, and her house was in danger.

Not long afterwards, Dara decided it was time to move to Connecticut.

“I wanted to be close to my family. It was a good decision and I felt good,” says Dara,

June 2019 will mark six years of being a Clinton resident for Dara. Citizens who pay attention to town affairs will be familiar with Dara’s name in her current role as the chair of the Board of Finance. Dara started her four-year term on the board upon winning a spot during the 2017 elections; she’s served as chair since September 2018. Dara says she was inspired to get more involved with town government after the 2016 elections. Additionally, Dara credits her father, a school superintendent in West Haven, with instilling in her a sense to give back to the community.

“I’ve always had a sense of community awareness,” says Dara. “It’s a nice community here and it doesn’t matter what letter is next to your name, it is about trying to help the community.”

Dara’s Connecticut’s roots go back to growing up in West Haven in a large family. Dara stayed in the area through college, attending Southern Connecticut and Yale universities, and then was afforded the opportunity to study abroad in Italy for a semester.

“I was the first member of my family to return to Italy, so that was kind of cool. It really opened up my eyes it was amazing,” Dara says.

Originally, Dara wanted to complete medical school and become a doctor, and seemed to be on her way when a connection in Italy led to her being hired as a researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. However, the medical field was not in the cards for Dara’s future.

“I didn’t see myself being a researcher for my whole life,” Dara says.

During her time as a researcher, Dara took a part-time job at the Bloomingdales store in New York, and soon got promoted to manager of the store. In her new role, Dara was responsible for 150 sales people. While she liked the job, Dara knew it wasn’t the right job for her, and decided to go back to school.

“I figured a law degree would be a good thing to have,” she says.

Dara graduated from the Cardozo School of Law in New York.

Currently, Dara has her own practice, Onofrio Law, where she combines her interest in science and law into one career. Dara works with a specialty in patent, trademark, and copyright law. Dara says her clients run the gamut from large companies to individual people.

She typically works with a client for two to three years, due to the complexity of the patent process.

“My practice never gets old,” Dara says.

She also credits her time at Bloomingdales as being helpful in retrospect.

“It gave me the business skills needed to run my own business,” Dara says. “Life has a way of directing you in different ways.”

Besides her work with the Board of Finance, Dara has made herself (and a special friend) known to other members of the community through her volunteer work. Dara and her white lab Jessie have been volunteering as therapy dogs at The Morgan School since the winter of 2018-’19. Dara explains that when she bought Jessie, she took her to several training classes, and eventually ended up getting Jessie certified as a therapy dog.

About once a month, Dara and Jessie go to the high school during students’ free periods, so students are able to come meet Jessie (and Dara).

“The dogs get all loved up and Jessie loves it,” Dara explains with a laugh.

Dara explains that growing up she and her siblings all wanted to pets, but her parents were adamant that they the kids were not getting a pet of their own. Dara now notes that nearly all her siblings have gone on to have pets of their own as adults.

In her spare time, Dara says she enjoys outdoor activities like gardening and walks to the beach. She also says she enjoys trips to the gym and she dabbles in watercolor painting.

Dara says that when she moved to Clinton, she found that people welcomed her with open arms.

“Everybody on the street us really friendly,” Dara says. “Everyone has a story here—there’s even a few of us displaced Westies,” Dara adds with a laugh.