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 day, (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!


Nai Abelenda

Role at ACC: Intern

My name is Naimid Abelenda and I am currently a sophomore at UMass Amherst majoring in psychology. I have always been an advocate for justice and equality in the United States, but you could say I would just watch from the sideline. This position finally gives me the opportunity to step out on the field and actively help any of those in need, specifically those who are homeless and disfranchised. Whether it be helping build someone’s resume for a job, to securing housing for someone with no home, I believe that any person deserves help as long as someone is willing to give it.

What I hope to bring to ACC is determination. Determination is what keeps us all going - it means there’s something to look forward to, and there always is. I am constantly setting goals for myself because I never want to stop working towards something, and I hope to establish that in my work at ACC. I want those who I work with to know that I am always on their side and will always try my best. Another thing I would like to bring to this site is ears for listening. Many times, those who are homeless or low income don’t have people they can talk to about what they’re going through, but I would like to offer my ears to better understand who I am working with.

But there’s another reason why I chose to intern at ACC, a reason that many people don’t mention, but is so important. Being there, I can immediately notice how comfortable the staff, and the participants are; everyone’s on a first name basis. I notice how everyone cares for each other, which is a rare thing to find now in the workforce. I value respect, and I know that ACC does too.

During my downtime, I enjoy going on walks (especially in the fall), having thoughtful and insightful conversations, listening to music, and going to restaurants for a nice dinner everyone in a while.


Quinn Breen

Role at ACC: Intern

I’m a senior at UMass Amherst, studying Political Science and English. I grew up in Lowell, MA, a socioeconomically diverse former mill town, known for being home to many different immigrant communities. Growing up in Lowell instilled in me a deep sense of social responsibility, which guides me through my education and career choices. To quote the late, great Toni Morrison, “Remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.”

Two summers ago, I was involved in a successful campaign (#SaveLHS) to prevent Lowell’s public high school from moving out of its current location in downtown. There was a huge push to build a new high school on the edge of the city and renovate the old building into private luxury housing or a shopping space - a plan that would have gentrified our downtown and made the school inaccessible to many students.This experience was important to me because I love my city and I was able to do something good for it; it taught me about organizing and showed me what ordinary people are capable of achieving when we work together. 

When I first came to Amherst, I felt confined to UMass’s campus and I could only see Amherst as a college town. I felt insulated from the real world, and I missed the feeling of connectedness I had at home. Working at ACC allows to engage with the Amherst community and opens my eyes to the town beyond campus. I’ve enjoyed my time at ACC so far and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.

In my free time, I like to read, listen to music, watch movies, and spend time with my friends and family. I also have a show on WMUA, UMass’s student-run radio station.


Brock Mangicotti

Role at ACC: Intern

I am a junior at UMass Amherst studying Communication and Spanish.  I have always loved being involved with my community through volunteer work. This past semester I was searching for an internship opportunity where I could really make a difference for the Amherst community, and I came across Amherst Community Connections.  I emailed Hwei-Ling Greeney about my interest in the internship and she responded right away.  I went the next day for an interview and seeing the work that was being done, I knew that this was the place for me.  Helping the homeless population find secure housing or jobs is very humbling and such an eye opening experience because of all the different people I get to meet. 

I was on student council in high school, and we hosted many volunteer trips with “Christmas in the City” in Boston, where underprivileged families get to enjoy a special day of Christmas.  The day to day interactions with families and co workers gave me a great understanding of what it is like to volunteer for something that means a great deal to others and the people you are doing it for.  I found that same passion my first day at ACC. For the past five summers I have been a camp counselor and have learned many ways to approach different situations with parents and campers. I learned to be personable with many different types of people whether it was giving parents a tour of the campus or speaking with them on the phone.  I was a supervisor this past summer where I honed my leadership skills to our sports camp teaching my staff the curriculum and giving them the proper training on how to handle certain situations with campers and staff. I also received my first official management training where I learned how to become a leader. These past experiences allow me to have the communication, knowledge, and drive that I will bring to ACC every day.

During my free time I love to hang out with friends, family, listen to music, and run.  Running has always been one of my favorite sports/activities because I grew up watching my mom run marathons. The discipline and mindset it takes to train and run a marathon is inspiring to see.  This led to my favorite high school sport being track. The team atmosphere, as well as the running, made me fall in love with the sport. My senior year I was honored to be elected track captain, which motivated me to keep running in college. Last but not least, hanging out with my family and friends mean the world to me because those are the people that are always there for me.


Grace Perry

Role at ACC: Intern

My name is Grace Perry and I am a junior psychology major at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. I began as an intern with Amherst Community Connections in September 2019, and so far I’ve been enlightened by the outpouring of faith the organization generates to its people. I grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, a city deafened by struggle with the passing of the 19th century textile mill boom. With an official motto of “We’ll Try”, the city’s population, which was once prosperous, has since declined to where now, 20.2% of the population falls below the poverty line. The monetary bones of Fall River’s people are broken and have been begging for relief for years.

Homelessness in a city like that in which I grew up is a subject that is often disregarded in both policy and the community. Whether it’s displacement or disregard, I’ve found that heads don’t turn in the direction of help for the homeless and instead are turned away. This is why, when I stumbled upon the work at Amherst Community Connections, I knew that this was a mission that I needed to be a part of. Buckled with opportunity and support, ACC is a safe place for those in need. ACC provides a great deal of hope and guidance through some of life’s greatest challenges.

While working with ACC, I am also a member of the Red Cross Club at UMass. I spend any free time in one of three ways: studying, catching up with friends and family, or painting. I love to create paintings of the people I admire, and I’m presently working on one as a gift to my mom. I have a black lab at home named Cooper, who absolutely loves being taken on walks and stealing bread off of the counter! I am excited to move forward with the work at ACC and am eager to help in whatever way I can!


Emily Rodriguez

Role at ACC: Intern

My name is Emily Rodriguez and I am a Western Mass native, hailing originally from the Springfield area. Currently I’m a junior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Anthropology at UMASS Amherst.  Initially I found this internship through the UMass work-study program website and after reading about all the good ACC does for the Amherst community and surrounding areas I immediately sent in a cover letter and my resume. The varying ways in which ACC gives back to their community is something that not only drew me in but also inspires me to give back in every and any possible way I can.  

My main interest in interning for ACC is their dedication to helping offer housing and job opportunities to those who need it the most. Given how tumultuous our political climate feels the existence of a small corner of the world focused solely on the benefit of helping others reminds us all that even in darkness there are still people spreading light and compassion.  As a person with ambitions of attending law school, advocacy for those who are homeless, jobless, or are currently struggling in any other way is not only what I intend on making my life’s work but what I believe gives my life reason. I keep with me a firm belief that in order for communities to thrive there has to be a sense of unity and ACC offers that in a multitude of ways. I empathize with those cases we take on and am dedicated to focusing all I can on helping them achieve a sense of security. It’s our duty as human beings to look out for one another and aim for a better tomorrow for all, not just some.

When I’m not reading for class or running across campus trying to catch the bus, I enjoy cooking vegan meals for my roommates, reading current affairs articles, trying new cuisine at restaurants, online shopping, and going for jogs.


Sophia Ventura

Role at ACC: Intern

I am a junior at UMass Amherst studying, economics and social thought and political economy.  Economic justice and empowerment is something I am sincerely passionate about, and I believe ACC is structured to tangibly work towards those goals. After seeing a Facebook post from ACC introducing an intern, I was elated to learn this was something I could be a part of. 

Both of my parents endured tremendous socioeconomic hardship growing up.  This isn’t a unique experience, as tens of millions of Americans currently live in poverty.  Many people with backgrounds similar to mine often revere their parents for instilling in them the value of hard-work. Although this remains true for me as well, my parents taught me something that I believe is far more important. They taught me the value of unyielding compassion and understanding.  No one deserves to be shamed and certainly no one grows from it. Because of this, I feel that ACC’s culture of compassion equips us all to help so many.     

For almost seven years, I had worked for MASS Healthy Smiles.  MHS provides portable oral health care services to underserved populations throughout Massachusetts.  Many not having access to quality education, it was my job to make each patient feel comfortable while effectively communicating how they can properly care for their oral health.  Making people feel comfortable is a skill I believe will be highly useful in my work with ACC. If people can’t even feel comfortable and safe to speak about what they’re going through, how can they work through it?  I could not be more grateful to be working with an organization that understands this. I look forward to empowering people in their individual journeys, and supporting them every step of the way!

In my free time, I love to be outside and spend time with friends.  Rock climbing and hiking are hobbies I enjoy most. Family is the most important thing in my life - all of my hobbies are even better with them!


Cyd Villavicenio

Role at ACC: Intern

My family is no stranger to homelessness. My mother, who had my two older siblings to look after, spent a couple years in a shelter before finally getting on her feet. I am aware of the despair and the sense of hopelessness that homelessness brings. Sometimes, I look at my mother and imagine all the suffering she endured to make it where she is now. Yet, that does not mean all hope is lost - my family is in a great place now and I know I can help other families prosper as well. Aiding those with disabilities, or those struggling with poverty and homelessness, is a noble line of work. My mother works as a Case Manager for Advanced Home Care Services, aiding and empathizing with those who are struggling as she once did. People do not only deserve a second chance, but also the compassion of those willing to help them prosper to new heights. Following my mother's footsteps not only brings me happiness, but it allows me to grow as an individual and grow closer to the Amherst community that I hold dear.

As a Communications Major, I take pride in the fundamentals of human interaction and learning. Although I have yet to graduate, I have confidence in the analytical abilities I have acquired through internships and in class, which have helped me understand how communication and design work. Designing content is a vital aspect of social media/advertising, and being given the opportunity to utilize my skills to better the community has been nothing short of an honor.

In my downtime I enjoy going to the movies, eating and playing video games. My favorite hobby, which I’m very passionate about, is photography. I’ve been hired to take photos for events in the past, but nothing quite beats having your own personal photos. Often, life passes by with seemingly little notice and moments are lost in time. Fleeting moments captured on a camera stick with you. They are forever, always there to look back on.

JB Jewelry workshop.JPG

Josh Berins

Role at ACC: Community Volunteer

I moved to Amherst when I was eleven and grew up here. I moved away for several years at a time on different occasions, but I kept coming back to the area because my family lives here and it is a great place to live.

I have known Hwei-Ling for many years as we live in the same neighborhood. After Hwei-Ling got me a job cooking breakfast at Craig's Place, I was looking for other volunteer work, so I joined ACC. I wanted to work for ACC because I could have very easily have ended up in a situation where I could have been homeless if I did not have the support of loving parents who allowed me to live with them.

I have many skills that I put to work at ACC such as bookkeeping, computer and printer help since I am trained as a computer technician. I also help clients with case work, and I am on The Board of Directors at ACC.

In my free time I like to walk on the bike path or hike up a mountain. I also make jewelry which I sell at Craft Fairs and Online. I work in three mediums: silver, dichroic glass, and wire wrapping Stones.  You can see my jewelry at www.jdbcreationsbyjoshua.com where I have my online store.


Dave Barnett

Role at ACC: Community Volunteer

I first met Hwei-Ling Greeney when I brought my senior high school Sunday school class to volunteer at the Food Kitchen at First Church.  Fast forward about twenty years, and I was volunteering at the Craig's Door Shelter at the Baptist Church when Hwei-Ling came through doing casework. She recruited me to volunteer for Amherst Community Connections. I have now been helping out at ACC since Spring, 2018.

Having worked in mostly technical fields, electronics, medical and technical writing for my professional career and volunteered in EMS and emergency preparedness organizations for much of my life, while the technical skills were not directly transferable, the problem identifying, research and solving efforts are similar. Working in engineering and the medical field taught me the importance of answering questions appropriately and providing the information required.  As they say, the "devil [or hopefully, the angel] is in the details. I have also always had a natural optimism, even when it was not really warranted. Today, I still take life "One day at a time." The biggest benefit of that leap of faith is that I do not have to do everything, just my part. God is the center of the universe, not me. Finally, probably the greatest asset I have is that I genuinely like most people and am able to connect with anyone who comes into the office!

I'm a serious old guy and I don't do a lot of purely fun things anymore. No more skiing. I am a model railroader and enjoy working on various projects around our house. My best one ever is our outdoor shower like you find at a beach rental. It is fully enclosed and has two showers and hot water, so it's not roughing it. I use it six months of the year and on special occasions during the winter. It is refreshing to have an outdoor shower after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day. It is also very enjoyable to start out standing on six inches of snow and finish up with my feet on the pavers! I also enjoy spending time with my grandchildren!

Karen Cassidy

Role at ACC: Community Volunteer

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!

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.39.24 AM.png

Lillian Coleman

Role in ACC: Office Manager

Lillian’s relationship with ACC started when she became involved with SCSEP, a program for adults 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. 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 handcrafted 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 retiree, 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 Olde Hadley American Legion Post 271. “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]!”

Pat Creaser

Role in ACC: Community Volunteer

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.