Mike Barbieri was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1949. He is the second of three children to Albert and Jean Barbieri. Albert was an RCA factory worker in Camden, N.J. Jean was a homemaker. Raised in the city's underprivileged Grays Ferry section, Mike learned early how families survived through support from relatives, neighbors and community leaders. Mike attended Catholic elementary school and graduated from Bishop Neumann High School (now St. John Neumann) in 1967. At Neumann he lettered in football and track and also played on the basketball team. He was named an All-Catholic football standout and won a scholar-athlete award. Mike's father, Albert, passed away in 1967, one week after his graduation from Neumann and while he was being recruited to play football for the University of Delaware by legendary coach Tubby Raymond. In 1969, Mike took a year off from the University of Delaware to join the National Guard but returned to school the following year and spent the next two seasons on the offensive line, where he played guard. He helped the Blue Hens win a national championship in 1971, his senior season. Inspired by a coaching staff that emphasized the "student" in student-athlete, Mike made the Dean's List his senior season and completed his degree in Sociology. Upon graduation,Mike took with him coach Raymond's mantra of avoiding complacency. Through teamwork and determination, Mike learned, there is no capacity to what can be accomplished.
Mike returned to Philadelphia to become a probation officer in the city's drug unit and begin a career devoted to combating drug abuse. By counseling criminals with addiction, Mike discovered that abusers lacked proper education, resources and support to stay committed to cleaning up. Mike began to
view the drug crisis through a broader perspective; that battling addiction required change from the system.
With that recognition, Mike set out to forge a path toward change. In 1973, he was awarded a fellowship from the Probation Department to attend Temple University to obtain his master's degree in Social Work. In 1978, he developed an Adolescent Outpatient Counseling program in Reading, Pa.
Through his work, Mike developed an understanding that policy change was essential to improving service for addicts. He chaired a Governor's task force in Pennsylvania to fight for more funding and services.
In 1980, Mike returned to the University of Delaware part-time to earn his Ph.D in Urban Affairs and Public Policy with a concentration on health care delivery. He gained the education necessary to inspire change from within the administration. Mike and his family settled in Newark in July of 1986, when he became the Executive Director of Hidden Brook, a drug-treatment facility in nearby Bel Air, Md.
While working in Maryland he fought to improve insurance benefits for mental health and substance-abuse services. He was promoted to Regional Vice President of Operations, working in various states to develop and manage drug-and-alcohol treatment programs. He also developed one of the first intensive outpatient programs in Delaware.
In 1991, Mike focused his attention on developing adolescent services in Delaware. He founded "Crossroads of Delaware," a Wilmington-based adolescent substance-abuse treatment program. Mike's work with adolescents has been the primary motivation for his political aspirations. He has seen the struggle of working parents trying to provide for children without affordable health care. Mike aspires to improve an educational system unable to address the needs of students due to limited resources and external forces that emphasize testing over learning. He sees an overcrowded juvenile
justice system without proper funding that lacks answers for repeat offenders, and an erosion of an employment base to support middle-class families. Mike believes drug problems run deeper than financial Band-Aids and inadequate policies that appear tough on paper – such as the "Gang and Bullying Bill" – but soft on results. He believes politicians should be held accountable for their actions and paychecks and he finds pandering to special interest groups unacceptable.