Our dedicated team of community volunteers and student interns

Our dedicated team of community volunteers and student interns

Hwei-Ling Greeney

Founder and Executive Director of Amherst Community Connections

Hwei-Ling started her long-term commitment to serving community members at local soup kitchen Not Bread Alone where she worked for over twelve years. Her commitment to serving people there, (driven by her love for cooking and her passion for sharing the delicious meals she prepares to the people who need it most), ended up being a pivotal moment in her life. She recalled fondly how one particular patron whom she served for over ten years, was “very bright” and would always stay after they were done serving the meal to help her clean up. She elaborated how he inspired her to look for more ways to fulfill the variety of unmet needs of the community that she was serving, “I was serving people delicious hot meals, but I thought to myself, ‘That’s just not enough!’... I wanted to do more.” And do more she did when she founded Amherst Community Connections in September of 2009 where she has been helping to connect the local homeless and at-risk-of-homelessness populations to the organizations and resources that they need. This includes helping them access much needed emergency housing, funding, and resources as well as working with them to find permanent solutions to their homelessness and the many other challenges they face.


When she is not too busy lending her compassion, knowledge, and expertise to those in need, however, you might be able to catch her taking long walks around the area listening to her favorite podcasts such as This American Life, On the Media, and TED Talk. Although keeping up with her will probably come as a challenge to many since Mrs. Greeney can boast an impressive average of 8-10 miles of walking every week, (or about 20-28,000 steps daily), according to her Fitbit, which lends itself to her family’s competition to see who can be the most active. Although competition is only a small element in her active lifestyle. She confided in me with a warm smile that her motivation is better found in what she does while out walking, “Sometimes when I get listening to a podcast and it’s really good I just keep walking, and walking, and walking… I just don’t stop!” As far as anyone here at ACC can tell that seems to hold true for everything that she does, including her work!


Tom Ehrgood

Role at ACC: Case Work and Legal Advising

Tom first came to the Pioneer Valley for high school at Deerfield Academy and for college at Amherst College (Class of 1973).  After Amherst, Tom studied philosophy in a French-language university in Belgium, having spent his junior year of college in Paris. After Belgium, Tom spent 28 years in Washington, D.C., obtaining a law degree and practicing as an international trade lawyer in private practice, in government, and for Digital Equipment and then Compaq. Tom returned to Massachusetts in 2003 and currently works in development for Amherst College.


Tom’s volunteer work for ACC is the most recent in a series of volunteer roles he has taken on since returning to the valley, including hospice volunteering, decisional counseling at the Hampshire County Jail, and membership in Amherst’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Dickinson Local Historic District Commission, which he chairs.  Tom helps the ACC’s clients in a variety of ways, drawing on his legal, zoning, fundraising, and other experiences.


Pat Creaser

Role in ACC: Community Outreach and Incubator Meeting Facilitator

A former program coordinator at Loomis Village retirement community with years of experience working for the Public Recreation and Health Department in Cincinnati, OH, Pat feels strongly about the importance of being involved in her community. She first met Amherst Community Connection’s founder and Executive Director Hwei-Ling at the Amherst Artwalk where she credits her “love of art” for bringing her together with her “love for people” leading to her volunteer position here at ACC. She recognizes that her strength of being able to relate to people and connect with them can be well-paired with her prior experience, both of which she likes to utilize to the fullest in helping to give back to the people in our community. The strong call to action she feels to help those who are homeless is clear, “I want to do more than just talk about it, instead of being sad and angry, I want to be a part of the solution”, as is evidenced by her hands-on approach to helping ACC’s participants. Pat’s youthful energy, bright smile, and endless outpouring of positive energy and vibes are well-placed in her facilitation of ACC’s weekly “Incubator meetings”, where the participants all have an opportunity to share in the hardships and joys of their lives as they work with staff to find permanent solutions to the problems they face such as homelessness, jobless, and hunger.


Beyond Pat’s love of art and people, she is a woman of wide interests which is not compromised in her enthusiasm for them. Being active is one interest, but how she does it varies from hiking with her two beloved dogs, to riding bikes, swimming, or yoga. She also likes most anything to do with culture including cooking, reading, art, painting, poetry, and museums. All of these passions together are what made her fall in love with the Pioneer Valley area when she moved here twelve years ago after marrying her husband.  She also enjoys spirituality and meditation, so she appreciates the diverse and healing spiritual community present in the Valley “the blend of nature with dance, culture and academia” is what she considers to be her favorite part of the community.


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Lillian Coleman

Role in ACC: Case Work and Office Staff

Lillian’s relationship with ACC started when she became involved with a program for adults 55 and up wanting a second career. Her acceptance into a position here at ACC was not the first time she had encountered Hwei-Ling, she first met ACC’s founder and executive director over 25 years ago through the Amherst school system that her grandson was enrolled in. Originally hailing from the Bronx in New York City, Lillian moved to Springfield in 1969 where she started her family. Seven years later, Lillian and her two daughters moved to Amherst where she enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to study Fashion Marketing while working as a janitor. Raising her growing family, however, was Lillian’s first priority and her love and pride in her family is forever outpouring and evidenced by her two daughters who have blessed her with her 7 grandchildren and her 5 great-grandchildren. 2015 marks the year that she successfully completed her degree in Business studies through the University of Massachusetts’s University Without Walls in 2015; a degree that she plans to put to good use since she has had her own handmade greeting card business, Cards by Coleman, since 1996 and is now looking to expand.


An alumna of the University of Massachusetts as well as a retired employee, Lillian enjoys doing some work as a seamstress stemming from her interest in fashion. She also loves dancing, especially salsa, which can be confirmed by one of ACC’s participants who sees her at the Friday Night Dances at the Lion’s Club in Hadley. “If you ever seen her dance, she can move! You wouldn’t expect it knowing her outside of [here],” in reference to Lillian’s warm soft energy , her kind smile, and her readiness with a ‘God Bless’ and a hug for almost all she encounters, the participant continued “She’s got so much energy, and you really see how young her spirit is when she’s out [there]!”


Karen Cassidy

Role at ACC: Outreach Advocate

Karen found out about ACC through Hwei-Ling at a community breakfast. She wants to volunteer here because she has known Hwei-Ling through her work in the past. Recently retired, Karen wants to try being a volunteer at ACC to see what it is like because she has been a licensed clinical social worker who worked with families and children in multiple settings but primarily for children in the family. Karen became a registered nurse one point in life as well. She has worked in pediatrics for 30 years. As a pediatric nurse, Karen worked with families and children but most recently children with complicated care and fragile health.  Karen says she loves meeting new people and helping whenever possible.

Karen has moved around a bit. Originally from New Jersey, she has lived in Boston for ten years, then finally came to settle down in Belchertown. She has lived in Belchertown for thirty five years and loves the “Happy Valley”. She has two children, two dogs, one cat, and two fish. Her children are both young adults now so whenever Karen has free time she enjoys to dance, swim, rollerblade, play with her pets, read, and do many other exciting activities. Her list of hobbies is endless so there is never a dull moment! Karen is really interested in her family, friends, enjoying this beautiful valley, likes quiet time, and likes to laugh. She thinks that all lives are half full, meaning whether someone is rich or poor does not matter because happiness is a state of mind. An interesting fact about Karen is that she gets remarried every three years. She would sign a new contract with her husband and go on a honeymoon. I love how funny and friendly Karen is. Although she shared a few short stories with me, I wanted to hear more if I had time. I suggest all of you to talk to Karen and hear her stories!


Dr. Richard Martin, D.Min.

Dr. Rick, pictured left, with Majid Ghayada, Town Manager of Nahalin, Palestinian Authority, Israel

Dr. Rick, pictured left, with Majid Ghayada, Town Manager of Nahalin, Palestinian Authority, Israel

Role at ACC: Peaceful Conflict Resolution

I experience great joy in helping people, and when I recently came close enough to know some of the clients at Amherst Community Connections, and to have friends among them, I was moved to throw my skills into the hopper of volunteers assisting those with the agonizing problem of having no place to sleep––or who are being evicted from wherever they have found shelter.

80 years of living and two careers (ministry and psychology) have given me the opportunity to learn many skills––starting with the simple practice of being as kind and generous as I can be.  That comes back to me in the form of many inspiring friends and the satisfaction of giving protection to people who are much closer to the edge of despair than I am (most days).  I actually believe that the primary purpose of our all being put on earth is for us to learn to help one another.

One of the skills which I have cultivated most diligently––having witnessed the pain that individuals, couples, and nations intentionally inflict on each other––is Peace­ful Conflict Resolution (and its kissing-cousin, Non-Violent Communication).  I have so often been the “good referee” to mediate compromises in such situations that I take those skills to Israel/Palestine for a month every Summer to try to make peace between the Jews and the Muslims there.  Much is left to be done, and I sometimes feel I am “ducking bullets (or dodging knives) for peace,” but I never like myself better than when I am doing it.

Helping my agency over there (known as “A Tent for All Nations,” or “Tent of Nations,” south of Bethlehem) has honed my skills at writing grant-proposals and conducting “project evaluations.”  I’m hoping to do more of that in Amherst, including for ACC.

In the meantime, I enjoy teaming-up with my good friend, John Des Chenes, to teach conflict resolution, positive psychology and authentic happiness in the Amherst and Greenfield area.

I live in a “fun” spot––by the dam at Puffer’s Pond––and find the waterfall and woods to be supportive of my practice of meditation.  Add my guitar and the jam-session group I frequent, and this is “almost heaven.”  Maybe “everything is holy, now,” as the song says.  If so, let’s share it.


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Brian Eckelkamp

Role in ACC: Casework and Social Media

I came to ACC because I felt that this would be a great opportunity to learn and develop important skills while being able to help those who need it. I am an Eagle Scout and deeply value being able to serve the community. My experience in Scouting has given me an understanding of working in a nonprofit environment with a focus on helping others and service above self. I spent the past seven summers working to help run one of the premiere Boy Scout camps in the Northeast, Wah-Tut-Ca Scout Reservation in Northwood NH. The last two summers I spent there was in a top administrative position. That experience has given skills in graphic design and video editing skills and I am excited to take to ACC. This past summer, I assisted managing a local exterior house painting company that brought in over $90,000 of revenue and taught me a great deal about the importance of hard work.

I have seen that homelessness is a serious problem in this area and ACC is a direct way to make a large difference in the lives of others. As a Communications and Political Science double major at UMass Amherst, I look forward to being able to expand and further the message to be able to do as much good as possible. I am excited to help create new forms of media to further the reach of the good that ACC does.

In my free time, I am an avid musician and play bass guitar in a local band named Wax Harpoon. It is an all-original alt-rock sound; you can find us in the local bars in the area and providing entertainment for other student-run events. I hope to be able to enhance my writing and research skills as well, as any form of communication is essential to being successful in the professional world. When I graduate in May of 2018, I hope to take the skills I have learned onto the campaign trail and try to work for a local political campaign, to further the good impact that I can make on society.


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Daniella Colombo

Role in ACC: Newsletter Editor and Casework

I initially heard about ACC about a year and a half ago when Hwei-Ling came to my school to speak with a club I am a part of, called KDSAP (Kidney Disease Screening and Prevention), about what ACC is all about. I did not take any steps to actually intern here until this past summer, after I had the opportunity to intern at an organization called Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. I spent the summer building connections with individuals in Boston who were experiencing homelessness, learning about the unique barriers to achieving health these individuals were facing, empowering patients to develop greater computer and phone literacy, and assisting in BHCHP’s respite facility. The experience was an incredible one and I realized I had the opportunity to do similar work in the Amherst community once I got back to school, so I reached out to ACC.

In the past I have worked with children with autism and developmental disorders. I am passionate about ultimately going into a field that will allow me to work with children struggling with mental illness and psychiatric conditions, as I believe every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential. The reasons for why working with this population is important to me are similar to the reasons I am drawn to this internship. I want to contribute to bettering the lives and health of the people most misunderstood, overlooked, underserved, and stigmatized in our society. Most of all I am enthusiastic about working to serve the needs of those that ACC aims to serve, learn from the stories and identities of others, and utilize my perspective-taking skills to problem solve.

Outside of ACC, I am a research assistant in a psychology lab that studies peer relationships, I volunteer at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and am a mentor to younger pre-health students. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, finding different means by which to exercise, visiting small local area restaurants, and enjoying the outdoors.


Beselot Birhanu

Role in ACC: Casework

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I first learned about Amherst Community Connections when founder and director, Hwei-Ling Greeney, spoke about her work at an event on Amherst College’s campus. I was struck by her commitment to tackling social inequities in the local community and her passion for people. Almost two years later after I graduated from Amherst, I have the opportunity to intern with ACC during my post-bacc year at the College. Although I am on the pre-med track and aspire to someday be a physician, I majored in anthropology and have always valued community and advocacy as important parts of wellness and healing. I feel strongly that health cannot be conceptualized in a vacuum of science and symptoms, but rather as a mosaic of factors both genetic and environmental. The impetus is on healthcare providers and community advocates alike to lessen the environmental burden on communities like those that ACC serves.

After fleeing our native Ethiopia over 15 years ago, my family and I were fortunate enough to be granted political asylum here in the United States. I have experienced firsthand the hardships of disenfranchisement, from dislocation, to housing instability, to a low income trying to support a family of six. The barriers to stability and safety can honestly feel overwhelming considering the obstacles, but luck struck for me again and I got the opportunity to attend a college I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. I want to find my own small ways of helping others in similar positions gain the access and resources to be the best, healthiest, and happiest versions of themselves, and I think ACC is the perfect chance for me to do that.

Outside of academics, I am a huge music enthusiast, particularly jazz music. I have played the upright bass for almost 10 years. Although I am nowhere near skilled enough to play professionally, playing jazz bass gives me a chance to unwind and just focus on enjoying the music for some time.

 


Mackenzie (Mac) Wilson

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Role at ACC: Case work and research

I first heard about ACC after joining the group of students surrounding Hwei-Ling at UMass’ non-profit student job fair; however, I did not know I wanted to work with ACC until after I attended the organization’s workshop “How to Be Funny” by Tim Lovett. Following this workshop, I realized that being an intern at ACC would be a rare opportunity that I needed to take. To me, ACC is an organization that seeks to empower vulnerable groups beyond helping them find housing and jobs. ACC’s mission includes instilling a confidence within these groups that they can make it past the difficulties in their lives while also creating a support network to fall back on if they ever face difficulties again.

As a hopeful future social worker, I love that I am gaining experience in how to better the lives of others by designing weekly programs to engage them and show them they have a support network right here at ACC.

ACC is not my first experience advocating for Pioneer Valley’s homeless population. Last year, I worked with a student coalition to prevent Craig’s Doors from losing its state funding. We were successful, and along the way I learned the proper skills to advocate for vulnerable groups in the community. I have good communication skills, am an experienced writer, and am increasing my event planning and organizational skills with every opportunity I have. At ACC, I utilize these skills by helping organize and plan events every week; helping write up short articles for our blog or newsletter; and advertising events through mail, social media, or flyers directed at the community.

When I am not working, I love any opportunity to decompress and be creative. I have been an active runner since high school and hope to run a half-marathon in 2018. For me, running is a way to forget about any stressors in my life and just go as fast as I can. I also am a novice yogi and have been trying repeatedly to meditate, but I can’t seem to ever get my brain to focus on anything for longer than 10 seconds, which my mom keeps saying is a part of the process! In addition to that, I enjoy embroidery and writing poetry when I am in the mood. I am also a rookie knitter and hope to one day be able to knit well enough to make an afghan as beautiful as the ones that hang on the ACC walls.    

 


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Alexandra Shore

Role in ACC: Case Management and Social Media

I was immediately drawn to Amherst Community Connections as soon as Hwei-Ling asked two questions, “Do you like people and do you like to write?” Since I am a sophomore journalism major, I could not think of anything more suitable for me than interning at ACC. Amherst Community Connections advocates for people who do not have the ability to do so for themselves, and the basic premise of being a journalist is functioning as an overseer of those whose power or position most affect citizens. Journalists are even sometimes referred to as “watch dogs” because we try to provide a voice to the voiceless.

I was also drawn to ACC due to growing up in a family that is heavily involved in the foster care system through the Department of Children and Families. Through my family’s involvement with DCF, I have had over 100 “foster siblings” and I have also gained two younger siblings through adoption. I have a passion for trying to advocate for the homeless because my youngest sister was directly affected by homelessness throughout her childhood before my family adopted her. Without my little siblings, I would lack some of the better traits that I have today, traits like my ability to be open-minded and my appreciation for the little things in life. Growing up in a multi-racial family I have learned how to face the true challenges of diversity, and I believe I can help others face their own challenges.

In my down time I enjoy reading memoirs because they always start with an author facing a challenge and then proceeds through the journey to a resolution of their problems, which gives me a certain drive and inspiration with each story I read. Along with being an avid reader, I enjoy street documentary photography. This style of photography is very similar to the case of “Humans of New York” but with a little less intensity. I enjoy going into big cities like Boston and Providence with my camera, snapping candid pictures of people. One of my favorite activities is participating in aerial yoga because in a world of chaos, it is nice to unwind. 


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Allison Green

Role at ACC: Case work and research

When I first heard about ACC I was instantly drawn to this organization. I have always believed that in order to aid others you need to be aware of the challenges that everyone faces, no matter how existent, or withdrawn they seem to be from our own lives. As someone who has been striving to find a space where I can awaken my own awareness to how I can actively implicate positive social and political change, ACC opened their own doors to me as an intern. At ACC I strive to bring an added empathetic presence in order to assist those who are susceptible to disadvantages in our own localized community. I believe in a grassroots approach to change, and I promote that it is spaces like the one that ACC has created that serve to combine kindness and guidance in order to create a widespread impact.

As a college senior my focus has become finding environments where I can kindle my own passions and pursue my goals to work in spaces motivated by the prosperity of others. As my college career has been packed with classes and working part-time, I am happy to be able to dedicate some time to ACC and their client base in order to have an opportunity to give back, while simultaneously investing in my own future, and helping those in need. I have always been someone who takes pride in my work ethic and dedication. I grew up in the Pioneer Valley so I feel a very strong connection to this community, and I am happy to have found a way to help it grow and thrive. I have always enjoyed working with others, and I easily become invested in enriching environments. I also identify a strength of mind to be my self-awareness and social intelligence, I am constantly reminding myself to be in tune with those around me in order to interact in empathic and intellectual ways.

In my free time I enjoy spending time with my dog Bella, she is a 5-year-old Pitbull that I rescued 2 years ago. She has taught me a lot about the importance of companionship, and we love going on hikes, and bike rides. In the winter I enjoy downhill skiing with my family, a sport that myself and my two brothers have been doing from a very young age. Recently I have also been striving to limit my use of technology and filling my time with reading a variety of books and dedicating some time to writing and journaling. I enjoy being outdoors in all seasons and I hope to continue to explore, connect with new people, and travel after I graduate.


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Jane Braaten

Role at ACC: Case work, research, grant writing

After completing her education in the U.S., India, and Europe, Jane taught philosophy at several colleges and universities. Immediately after receiving tenure at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, she decided that she could not continue to pursue professional philosophy in its current form, as it has no place for the classical pursuit of wisdom, or the collective cultivation of wisdom. She pursued a number of eccentric attempts to do so independently, finally discovering a meditation practice tradition that puts first things first - the preciousness of human life. She attempts to support that tradition through scholarship and practice.

She joined ACC in the Spring of 2016 because she was impressed with its mission, to 'empower, advocate for and assist people in need,' as well as the one-on-one approach to meeting people where they are, and offering a steady hand when they ask for one. 


Meaghan Laprade

Role at ACC: Public health education

Growing up in Western Mass, I always knew I wanted to make an impact. Away from any major city center, the opportunity to do so here is limited. It’s easy to graduate college and move on, looking forward to adapting, growing, and meeting people along the way. But, there’s just something about this place that pulls you right back. Community defines our existence. The people we surround ourselves with and form relationships with, transform us and our views on society. The ACC mission is unique. ACC chooses to identify AND understand the individuals that need the most help and the obstacles that stand in their way.

Compassion and passion drive my desire to inflict change. When you see clear patterns that can be altered and behaviors that can be modified, you know it’s time to step in. Helplessness can’t be accepted. These individuals are clearly a product of their environment, and it’s our job to help shape and redefine their environment. Currently I am a student at UMASS Amherst in the Accelerated Nursing Program after first receiving a degree in Animal Science. I look forward to learning more about community nursing this semester!

In my down time, I’m active and try to set a good example. If I’m not healthy, fit, and making positive decisions for myself and those around me, I can’t expect others to do the same. Anything new and different or challenging is both beneficial and exciting. I constantly look forward to tackling what comes next. I love to travel and learn everything I can about the different places I go. I love to adopt homeless animals and either provide them with a loving home with myself or with someone else. I strive to constantly help those around me whenever possible!

  

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