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!


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.


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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]!”


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!


Mara Penatzer

Role at ACC: Intern

I learned about Amherst Community Connections as part of a research project on Amherst resources, and was drawn to ACC because they recognize that finding housing is a necessary first step for participants to meet their other basic needs and thrive. I learned about the housing first model this summer and was very excited to find that ACC has a Housing First program. I admire ACC's ability to work collaboratively with participants and connect community members with resources. ACC addresses so many issues connected to homelessness, including fighting the stigma that people experiencing homelessness face by collaborating with and advocating for our participants, and helping participants find transportation and other supports in their efforts to find housing.

As a clinical social work graduate student, I am working to develop skills in clinical interviewing, case management, and community practice to bring to ACC. I value hearing each individual's story and believe that every person has the right to a life of dignity and purpose. I have lived in Amherst for the past five years and am excited about this opportunity to work within my community. My first introduction to community service was serving as an AmeriCorps member for a year and a half at the Community Music School of Springfield, where I taught music in Springfield public schools, learned about asset-based community development, and completed team service projects in Springfield and Holyoke. I am excited to be bringing what I've learned in AmeriCorps and school to my own community, and to work with ACC to support those struggling with homelessness in Amherst. In my role at ACC, I am learning so much about local resources that address basic needs, the process of applying for emergency housing, supporting participants in recovery, and working collaboratively with participants to develop service plans that work for them. 

In my downtime, I am a pianist and have been performing regularly with the Greys, a jazz-inspired indie rock band, for the past year and a half. I also enjoy cooking, hiking, and Amherst coffee shops. 


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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!


At the Book & Plow Farm

At the Book & Plow Farm

Emily (Yuxing) Ma

Role at ACC: Intern

I grew up in a small town, and when I came to Amherst, I missed the close-knit community that I left behind. While searching for ways to get to know the Amherst community, I found Amherst Community Connections and discovered a side of Amherst that was far different from the campus environment. As I spoke more with the poets, magicians, and teachers who came to ACC, their shared experiences with housing and food insecurity made me realize how much I had yet to learn about the community I found myself in. Over the past year and a half at ACC, I’ve been struck by the deep bonds that ACC staff and volunteers make with local community members. I firmly believe that housing is a right and I want to continue to work at ACC to make housing and other resources accessible to everyone and strengthen my connections with the Amherst community.

One of the qualities I pride myself on is my ability to actively listen. Through hearing the experiences of the people who come to ACC, I am better able to learn from them and work with their strengths. My listening skills have also helped me interact with participants for the Humans of Amherst interview series, where community members share a glimpse into their lives. Everyone has a story, and listening to those stories while working at Amherst Community Connections has been the most rewarding.

When I’m not volunteering at ACC or fending off school work, you can find me under a pile of origami creations or absorbed in my latest graphic design project. On nicer days, I’m out and about, wandering on hiking trails and bike paths to explore the beautiful Pioneer Valley.


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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.


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Timothy Scalona

Role at ACC: Intern

I am a first-generation and low-income college student at UMass Amherst, studying Political Science and Journalism. On-campus, I am a member of the Student Government Association, the Center for Education Policy & Advocacy, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, and my fraternity Alpha Chi Rho. In addition, I am working to start a First-Generation Low-Income Student Partnership chapter at UMass, to provide a community space for those of said background. My experiences are rooted in my history, a past that has continued to motivate my every action. In pursuit of social and economic justice, I am a writer, a speaker, and an advocate. In my spare time, I love to watch tv shows, to read, to exercise, and to hang out with my friends

Before coming to college, I lived in homelessness with my parents and six younger siblings. We moved between hotels and shelters for a period of seven years. We did not have sufficient food access, as often a microwave was the only means we had to cook food. We lived in cramped living spaces, forced into one room hotels through the state’s emergency shelter program -- many of which were over two hours from our hometown in Wilmington, MA. Through this experience, I saw education as the means of rewriting my narrative. I dreamt of college for the new beginning it would offer, and the ways I could use the opportunity to receive an education to fight poverty, homelessness, inequality, and injustice. I wanted to fight for a better future to ensure that no homeless individual or family would endure the same.

Last year, I ran for Amherst Town Meeting and was elected. There, I met Hwei-Ling Greeney who spoke on the work of Amherst Community Connections. It was not a few months later that I came to speak at ACC on my experiences and I really found comfort in the community atmosphere the organization provided. I realized that I wanted to work on an individual level to serve the needs of homeless populations in Amherst, helping them to find housing and support. 

As a current intern, I can empathize and understand their reality because in some ways I lived similarly. Through this, I try to individualize my support for our participants - not only working to provide housing and job support, but also trying to establish real connections with them. I enjoy the opportunity to form new friendships with some of our most vulnerable populations as we work to support them; this also provides me with a level of personal comfort, as in college I have not met many people who have lived through similar circumstances. While homelessness is a structural issue that will take political courage to remedy, I find joy in the work we do at ACC -- helping our participants to find housing and aid services in a safe environment. In the future, I would like to be a lawyer or hold public office. I have long believed that marginalized communities deserve a seat at the table in decision-making, so I want to bring my personal experiences and those of our participants experiencing homelessness in advocating for just economic and social policy.

 


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Alphoncina (Allie) Lyamuya

Role at ACC: Intern

My name is Alphoncina (Allie) Lyamuya, and I’m a rising senior at UMass Amherst majoring in legal studies with a minor in political science. Over the past two months, I have had an opportunity to intern with the Amherst Community Connections, and to support the organization’s mission by helping people to find affordable housing in the area. I learned about ACC during the last spring semester when I was on a search for a summer internship. I was astonished by the organization’s mission and the impact it was making in the local community. The different avenues that the organization uses to help individuals and families facing homelessness, evictions, and unemployment sparked my interest. I have always been curious about the connection between homelessness, immigration, and displacement, and I knew that by spending time working at the ACC I would be able to make the connections between the three.

My experience working at the ACC has been nothing else but positive and transformative. Over the past two months, my understanding of homelessness and challenges associated with it has taken a huge shift. I have become aware of different challenges, repercussions, and ways to eradicate suffering and struggles that come along with homelessness and displacement. Further, I have gained familiarity with different resources and institutions that are dedicated to helping displaced people who are either at risk or already facing homelessness. The basic skill of the human services field came from working as a residential counselor for individuals with developmental disability and mental health issues and working at a homeless shelter and a recovery program. I believe the skills gained from these jobs along with the ability to remain calm in a stressful situation and interact with different people were helpful in a day to day encounter with participants, co-workers, and the administration. Additionally, the analytic skills I acquired as a research assistant helped be better analyze and conduct thorough research in case management.

Working with different participants at the ACC not only allowed me to learn and expand my knowledge in the human services field but also made me more empathetic to the needs of others. As the weeks went by, I became more and more aware of where my path in life should be beheaded. I will always be grateful for having gotten the opportunity to work and learn at the Amherst Community Connections. The people I worked with, the participants I helped, and the experience I obtained throughout my time here will always be cherished.


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Khaleelah Harris

Role at ACC: Intern

Summer of 2019 was a summer in which I was a recipient of the 2019 W. E. B. Du Bois Research Fellowship at Umass Amherst. The program was a 6-week long program that required me to be in the area consistently. I quite literally went on Google and searched “Volunteer opportunities near me.” Among others, Amherst Community Connections popped up. As I began researching, comparing, and contrasting the options, it became very clear to me (very quickly) that ACC was the one that best fit my ministerial vision. The organization’s dedication to homeless and extremely low-income populations is the kind of work and philosophy that align directly with my moral values. The process of elimination did not take very long at all. That my mother's own career and community service engagements mirror the work done here at ACC also played a major role in my decision to choose ACC.

 As it relates to my skills and abilities, I have a psychosocial approach to my social work. When I say this, I mean that I am considering social factors that lead to different forms of trauma and their psychological ramifications to provide individuals with specialized life affirming love and encouragement. I understand that there are individuals we serve who deal with or have dealt with constant emotional and even physical abuse. Homelessness and extremely low income often cause individuals that are impacted by these situations a lot of stress, constant anxiety, and sadness. Therefore, with the particular skills I have, I aim to counter that norm and guide them towards a more positive life experience. 

In my downtime I enjoy activities such as reading and writing that serve personal and academic purposes. I enjoy shopping for clothes, shoes, and antiques. Trying new restaurants and eating restaurants I love is one of my absolute favorite pastimes as well


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Greene Ko

Role at ACC: Intern

When I moved to the United States to go to college, I was struck by how many people were out in the street. At first, I thought homelessness was a local issue that affected mostly big cities like New York or Detroit. However, once I came to Amherst, I realized that homelessness and other related issues of poverty are a national epidemic that affects bustling cities, the suburbs, and small college towns alike. While homelessness and poverty result from embedded structural problems of our society, I know that I can still help those affected by homelessness in the Amherst community. I learned about Amherst Community Connections through my friend and after meeting with an ACC staff member and learning the work ACC does, I immediately realized it was the perfect place for me to use my skills and education for the service of others. 

Having worked closely with people with disabilities back home in Korea, I know how important it is to respect and listen to individuals’ stories. Because everyone comes from all walks of life, I always try to be compassionate but also humble at the same time. I believe that my past experiences have allowed me to become a good listener and someone who can empathize and build heartfelt relationship with our participants. My attention to detail and communication skills help me work meticulously and efficiently.

I love surfing and catching novelty waves wherever I can find them. Besides surfing, I enjoy dancing to groovy hip hop beats and competing for my school mock trial team. I pride myself as a Youtube connoisseur and an expert in dad jokes.