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!
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.
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.
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]!”
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.
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.
Role at ACC: Fundraising
As someone who has always been passionate about advocating for and helping those in need, I was drawn to ACC because as an organization, it works to help vulnerable individuals in the community. I loved ACC's mission of raising awareness for those who may not have their voices heard and their provision of a wide range of resources for these individuals to take a step closer in success. I have gone on several missions trips in Latin America and have worked in the State government in the past, and have found myself enjoying advocating for and working with those in need, as well as, being able to give a voice to the voiceless through public policy. As a student pursuing a career in the Public Health field, in the future I hope to work closely with organizations that bring medical aid and other resources to those in need all around the globe. With this dream in mind, I was excited to have the opportunity to work with ACC, where I could gain a better understanding and get a more hands-on experience working in this kind of environment in my own community.
In addition to my passion for advocacy and helping to bring aid to those in need, many of my interests and skills revolve around social media, design, fundraising, and photography. At ACC, I am able to use these wide-ranging skill sets to organize fundraisers for various important causes, to provide my photographs and designs for different projects and advertising, and to bring new and creative ideas to the table. With my heart and my skills working together, it has resulted in my motivation and determination to do my best in bringing change in the work that I do at ACC.
I am someone with many hobbies and interests and I find joy in being adventurous and creative. Playing music (piano and cello) and soccer have been things that I have been doing for over 13 years now and are always the things that I go to do in my free time. Playing music, especially piano, has provided an outlet for me to express myself and is something that has shaped who I am today. I also love photography and design and have my own freelance photography business and am a loyal Instagrammer. Additionally, I am very much an adventurer and I love to travel all around the world. Exploring new things, new places, and new people, is something that I love to do.
Role in ACC: Casework
Sadie Mazur is a transplant to Western Mass and the Northeast as a whole, hailing from Atlanta, GA. Her love for nature, appreciation for the area’s level of political involvement, and a handsome scholarship brought her to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2014, where she is currently a senior pursuing a double major in Anthropology and Public Health.
Sadie discovered ACC through word of mouth from a friend and was immediately drawn to their commitment to community building and emphasis on empowerment and accessibility for disenfranchised individuals. From a young age, her parents instilled in her a strong sense of justice and empathy, which has stayed with her well into her adult years.
Amherst Community Connections' mission of providing resources to vulnerable community members with a holistic, sustainable, and personalized approach speaks volumes to Sadie, who truly believes that long-term support and personal empowerment are the most powerful, yet underutilized, tools for success in life. Sadie hopes that her creative outlook, empathic nature, and strong interpersonal and writing skills will benefit ACC in their goals to raise awareness and advocate for the at-risk community. She believes that ACC will give her an opportunity to make real, long-lasting connections and enact tangible change locally. She just wants to help as much as she can and learn as much as she can!
Sadie’s academic interests lie in equal and equitable access to education and care, health communication and health literacy, mental health advocacy, women and children’s health, and expressing oneself through the arts. Sadie’s professors, employers, and friends recognize her as a hardworking woman with diverse interests, a professional and personable demeanor, and a simple zest for life.
Outside of school and work, Sadie spends most of her time at Pioneer Valley Crossfit, where she has been a dedicated athlete since September 2016. You can also catch her honing her roller derby skills at the local skating rink on Tuesday nights, practicing a variety of instruments in her apartment, cooking (and subsequently burning) various recipes, fawning over strangers’ dogs, and spending good, old-fashioned quality time with loved ones.
Role in ACC: Administrative Asst. (Grant Research, Case Management)
I found ACC through the help of a Federal Labor Dept. program which provides needed assistance to non-profits and which pays my wages. I liked ACC’s concept of assisting the homeless find affordable housing, available employment, and assistance with applying for benefits. Our society needs to view and treat poverty and homelessness as what they are: human and civil rights issues.
My interest in Human Services began in my early college years working for the San Jose Parks and Recreation Dept. as a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist with people with disabilities. This exposure set me on a lifetime of working to assist others in learning the tools they need to be assertive for their civil rights, and help the mainstream of society understand compassion for all.
My double M.Sc. degrees are in Rehabilitation and Career Counseling, with a B.A. and B.Sc. in Therapeutic Recreation and Anthropology/Archaeology. Additionally, I have three teaching credentials in Survival Skills for People with Disabilities, Cooking and Nutrition, and Wilderness Survival-Wild Edible Plants.
I have worked with the homeless over many years in Human Services. At one point I was Manager and Counselor with a homeless shelter with Tucson’s Traveler’s Aide that had small studio apartments with efficiency kitchens for each person. They were required to look for work and apply for benefits. Additionally, with Casa Maria Catholic Worker Intentional Community I was a live in counselor, maintenance man, and community gardener for fresh food for our guests at the homeless shelter in South Tucson. We operated a small homeless shelter that accommodated both individuals and families in a home setting. Plus we operated a Food Kitchen 5 days a week.
I have also worked as a Crisis Counselor; Rehabilitation Counselor; Vocational Services Manager at a Mental Health agency; and Public Guardianship Manager for Western Massachusetts. In some of my various roles I also taught Non-Violent Communication, and assertiveness training.
My employment interests are varied so I have also worked as an Archaeologist; Arborist; Forestry Botanist; Naturalist with Audubon; Ethnobotany Instructor (wild edible, useful, and poisonous plants); and Cooking Instructor for people with disabilities.
I love to day hike and backpack in the wilderness, swim and free dive in the ocean and lakes, and kayak and canoe. I have dived in Hawaii listening to the sounds of whales and watching them swim off the island of Maui. Being involved with the natural world, Taoist philosophy, and meditation are very important to me.
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.
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.
Role in ACC: Casework
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.