Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune File Photo
Jenny Barber gets ready for a pitch during the 2007 Central Section championship game.
Former Liberty Hawks softball standout Jenny Barber is back at home after 13 years away to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic with the rest of her family.
“The last few months have been absolutely insane,” she said. “I have been back home with family. We have been cooking a lot and reflecting on what’s important and what I want my life to look like after COVID. I have taken a moment to re-evaluate what is important to me, what I want to do, where I want to be and all that goes with it.”
Barber graduated from Liberty High School in 2007 after leading the softball team to its first-ever Central Section championship in 2005. That team was inducted into the Liberty High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.
“It’s been a couple of times this has happened since high school,” she said of her entire family in the same house. “This is like the second or third time we have had an extended time together. All of this has gotten a little overwhelming. I drove through the Ranchos and passed Liberty. It’s almost been like remembering the simple, beautiful foundation I am still standing on since high school ended. It’s very unique to have five grown adults in a house. It’s been interesting.”
After graduating from Liberty, Barber went to San Diego State, graduated and spent another three years in the city.
However, in 2015, Barber decided she wanted an adventure. She packed up her car and drove to Denver, Colorado.
“I moved there for life,” she said. “I was at a similar crossroads to where I am now. Just growing up in the Central Valley, most people can relate to the love of the mountains. I thought why not go on an adventure and try it out. Why not go to what I knew is the most outdoorsy kind of people. I packed up my four-door sedan, fit whatever I could in there, found a room on Craigslist and went for it. I remember driving Interstate 70 and said out loud to myself, ‘what am I doing?’ I pulled up, met this person I only Facetimed with and it was amazing. That was my roommate for my 2 1/2 years. I met a whole new group of friends. I understood the meaning of community even more. It did remind me of home. It was salt-of-the-earth, down-to-earth people and that’s why I loved it so much. Colorado was cool and it got me out of my comfort zone.”
While in Denver, Barber worked with a non-profit helping young adults with cancer with outdoor adventures.
“I did ice climbing, rock climbing, mountain biking,” she said. “I did a full-day, 17-hour hike and I got lost. I encountered moose. I did things that I didn’t think was on my to-do list. That was the catalyst that pushed me to those adventures. I don’t think I would have went on those adventures on my own. I am so grateful for those experiences. I didn’t realize the adventurous side of what I could do. Those are going to be something I cherish and take with me.”
However, in March when the coronavirus started to overtake the nation, Barber wasn’t sure what was going on. The only sure thing she knew was to return home to California.
“At the time, I thought about what the virus was,” she said. “I didn’t want to touch anything and sleep overnight at somewhere I didn’t know. So, I made the drive all in one day. I left at 5:30 a.m. and got home at 10 p.m. My roommate got engaged and she left to the Midwest. I thought the thing was going to be a couple of weeks. I was thinking about staying in Colorado. I also thought this was a nice out. I could catch my breath in California, come back to reset and start over. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll be going back.”
Now, Barber has had time to think, reset and focus on a whole new direction thanks to the advice and support from her family.
“My family is a blessing,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have do if I couldn’t come back to them, my team. I needed this space to rest and tune in to what I may be needing and want. I’m so grateful to come back to my family. It’s awesome.”
Being able to reset in Fresno with her family has allowed Barber to think about some of the foundations she learned growing up in Madera Ranchos that she still leans on today.
“Growing up in the Ranchos built a foundation in me from values to way of life,” she said. “I took those values with me to San Diego. It was like a challenge to be in a big city I tried to hold onto those values while grown. When I got to Denver, it was like a small-town city, but I got to return to my small town values. I feel like I was going home to remember those values that I learned from kindergarten through high school. I’m more grateful growing up there now than I couldn’t even understand it when I was in it. This was normal and how it always is. Every new experience, I appreciate more and more where I came from.”
One of the highlights of Barber’s career came in the 2007 Central Section championship game where she was a senior in right field, her sister was a freshman in the pitching circle and her father was the third base coach.
“That was a special year for us,” she said. “ We’ve had so many family dinners in the past few months. It’s never happened. We have reflected a lot. We think about the most my senior year when we played Fowler for the Valley Championship. It’s so quickly how we can recall.”
Barber’s Liberty teams were successful and set the stage for even more successful Liberty teams that came after her with her sister, Kayla, leading the way.
“I look at what I am now and look back to say my foundation of growing up in the Ranchos is a product of who I am and what I am getting involved in now,” she said. “There’s like traditions and deep values we didn’t even know as 17 and 18-year-olds, that we were planting as a foundation to that program. I’m sure they live on that today. It’s so cool. I’ve never reflected on that.
“You don’t know the kind of affect of the legacy you leave behind until you look back. The time has to past and you have to really understand the ripple effect. A lot of the girls are creating a ripple effect of their own.”
With time to think and reset, Barber is working on a new career, one that will involve cooking while also helping bring people together.
“After college, I got really involved with cooking,” she said. “I went to cooking school. A week before I was going to graduate from cooking school, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Life has just happened. I have worked a lot of different areas of food, like food media and everything in between. I landed in Denver with a non-profit. I got to cook with a purpose. That’s where my heart it. I was one of the chefs for that non-profit. I want to do more work like that. There will be more consulting with cafes that makes money for a non-profit in Colorado. They should be expanding in the country in the next few years. I may be hosting dinners and events, programs and being on the chef side of it and doing consulting to create experiences. That’s kind of what it will look like. I’m surrendering to the craziness of 2020 and reflecting and taking in where life might take me. I know there will be cooking. I know there will some social impact, give-back component, whatever way I can use my passion for food to bring people together. I will kind of let it take me where it needs me.”