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 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.


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!

Clara Seo

Role at ACC: Intern

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I was introduced to ACC when Hwei-Ling came to my school to talk at a KDSAP meeting, a club that I am part of. She asked us what we, as college students, could do to make a difference and she playfully dismissed the answer, becoming a successful alumnus and donating millions back to your home institution – and her dismissal could not have been any more valid. She then offered a quite humbling alternative: to become an advocate for vulnerable individuals of our immediate community. I have always had a penchant for the passionate act of giving and ACC seemed like the right place to be. ACC is unique as you dive right into the community and tackle the social inequities that are often overlooked. ACC offers me the precious opportunity to spend my time in changing lives for the better and instilling confidence and hope in those who need it the most. 

With grit, there is no such thing as a problem without a solution. For every client who I meet, I am determined to find a personalized solution that works best. However, I understand a solution is not the be-all and end-all, and so I firmly stand by upholding the value of the humanness in an interaction. I believe that one genuine smile can go a long way. I carry more than happiness with my smile; I also carry my welcoming for others to feel safe and comfortable around me, my compassion to genuinely understand others, and my promise to hear out any person’s story. That being said, I offer my smile to everyone who comes through the doors of ACC with the commitment to fostering positive change. 

Outside of ACC and academics, I am a huge food enthusiast. I love to cook, anything from classic chicken parmesan to traditional Korean dishes. My favorite and dare I say specialty of mine is guacamole. I am an avid proponent of chunky guacamole with oodles of cilantro and lime. Being a food enthusiast, I love to explore eateries wherever I go. I’ll go on impromptu adventures to the local farmers’ market or aesthetic cafes or even cities solely for their food-trucks!

Colin Bratton

Role at ACC:

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I felt compelled to apply for an internship opportunity at Amherst Community Connections after reading about the meaningful work done to support those experiencing housing insecurity in the community. Housing is a fundamentally important issue, and I have spent much of my time as a Sustainable Community Development major at UMASS focused on the issue of providing adequate affordable housing. To have the opportunity to do meaningful real-world work assisting those in the area, acutely in need, is an exciting chance to make a difference during my final year as an undergrad. 

It is clear from my very brief experiences thus far that ACC does important, empowering work that makes a difference in the lives of people every day. I can say honestly that I think I made a meaningful, positive impact on another person on my very first day at ACC. I have had significant experience dealing with people from a wide variety of backgrounds throughout my life and have seen firsthand the struggles of people close to me dealing with housing insecurity. I am motivated to make a difference in the lives of others and have the strong communication skills to build the relationships and trust necessary to work together with those in need to find solutions for a better Pioneer Valley. Growing up in the Merrimack Valley I knew little of Western Mass prior to transferring to UMASS from Middlesex Community College last year but have quickly grown fond of the area. I am excited for the opportunity to engage more deeply with the Amherst community.

In my free time I enjoy playing with my dog, Scout, as well as reading non-fiction books and playing the Baritone Saxophone. I also like to take day trips around New England, seeking out interesting places off the beaten path to discover.

Valerie Cedrone

Role at ACC: Intern

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The mission of Amherst Community Connections to work with low-income and homeless members of Amherst to help them find stability and success is what ultimately drew me towards this internship position. I have always had a passion for giving back to my community, especially by finding new and innovative ways to provide assistance and support. I discovered my passion for non-profit work by volunteering at various organizations beginning at a young age. It was in this work that I realized I would only find fulfillment in a career where I was working hands on with my community to ensure equal opportunities and assistance for everyone. I firmly believe that the path to a better world involves ensuring a level playing field for all, and I am driven to fix the flaws in our society that keep people stuck in a cycle of poverty and struggle.

Along with my passion for the work that takes place at Amherst Community Connections, I come with experience in graphic design and website design. When I’m not at ACC, I spend the majority of my time working at UMass Transit Services. Working for the PVTA has provided me with extensive knowledge of the local transportation system, which allows me to assist people in understanding the public transportation system in the Pioneer Valley. I am currently a public health major at UMass Amherst, and hope to also bring my formal knowledge of healthcare and health inequity to the organization.

In my free time, I enjoy going on hikes with my cat, trying to find new and more challenging climbs each time. I also enjoy attending farmers markets and learning more about local food, as food policy is a personal interest of mine. I have also recently discovered a passion for cooking, and although I still have trouble getting everything to come out right, I hope to improve with time and practice.

Taryn Gately

Role at ACC: Intern

I first learned about Amherst Community Connections while scrolling online through local non-profits in Amherst. I’m apart of the Advancing Diversity in Research and Practice (ADRAP) program at UMass Amherst, which also led me to ACC. I felt that I had discovered a hidden gem as I read and was inspired by their mission to assist vulnerable individuals and families in achieving stability. Too often, people are overlooked and undermined when they need help the most. From a young age I knew that I did not want to just see the world, but also make a difference in it. My family and I would not be where we are now had we not received the helping hands we did. It made all the difference for our lives, and being knowledgeable of my potential impact on someone else’s life is too significant to ignore. Although I am interning, I’m aware that volunteering is a valuable, resourceful two-way street that people need to travel on more. Not only am I able to help those involved with the ACC, but it’s a whole other personal feeling to be able to give unconditionally. I have a profound passion for using the voice I was lucky to grow up with to provide advocacy and empower those who may not have one, and when I realized I could potentially have that opportunity with ACC, I had to take it.

As an intern, I am able to bring exceptional communication/people skills, sensitivity, and confidentiality to ACC. In the past, I worked as a sleep-away camp counselor and consistent babysitter/nanny for local families. I've taken care of children with multitudes of personalities and of different backgrounds that have given me a newfound awareness I would not have been able to achieve before. I was trained to look out for those struggling, whether it be homesickness or mental health, and not only address their needs, but do so in a way that they did not feel outed or shamed. I built deep connections with both my campers and co-counselors that were based on respect and kindness for one another, making communication the most effective it could be. I learned from the children I spent nearly every day with in ways they could not learn from me, reaching a level of understanding that would facilitate cooperation and collaboration. I’m excited to be bringing an open, sensitive mind to ACC in order to make clients feel like they have a steady shoulder to lean on when devising a plan for themselves.

In my down time, I enjoy taking trips to the gym in order to be the best, healthiest version of myself I can be. I also like to explore, whether it be local hiking trails, downtown shops, or a new restaurant I have yet to try. Being outside is therapeutic to me, especially when my dog, Bow, accompanies me in exploring. I love to meet new people while I’m out and spread as much extra kindness as I can, because we all know we need it.

Sarah Wishloff

Role at ACC: Intern


I was initially drawn to Amherst Community Connections out of a desire to work with and support vulnerable populations. Homelessness is a critical issue that has significant health and personal ramifications. Working with ACC to assist low-income and homeless individuals in Amherst seemed like the perfect opportunity to provide service to those most acutely in need, while simultaneously becoming more involved in the local community. There is a lot of stigma attached to homelessness, despite the fact that it affects so many individuals and is a product of a variety of intersecting social forces. One of my goals working with ACC is to change the way the public perceives homeless individuals, and restore voice to those who have been marginalized by the community. I am glad and humbled to have the opportunity to do such meaningful work with an organization that truly values its clients as people. 

During my shifts at ACC, I strive to always listen empathetically to clients’ stories. I try to create a welcoming space in which people can feel truly heard and know that their life story matters. I also bring my passion for visual art and graphic design, facilitating monthly art workshops to create community and conversation through creative expression. As an anthropology major, I hope to also bring my cultural sensitivity and knowledge of social inequality to the organization. 

Eventually, I hope to pursue a career in medicine and public health. Outside of volunteering, I enjoy running and swimming, and try to spend as much time as possible outdoors. I am an active member of Amherst College’s radio station, where I am working on painting a community mural. I am always willing to undertake drawing or painting projects, ranging from painting canvas shoes to designing stickers for friends.  

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Judy Mitrolka

Role at ACC: Case Worker

After many years of work in the business world, I am now semi-retired and have found myself drawn to work that would help me make a difference in the lives of those who are the most vulnerable and forgotten.  I met Hwei-Ling several years ago and was impressed with her dedication to the elderly, low-income, disabled and homeless populations in the valley. At Amherst Community Connections, I have found a collection of staff and volunteers that have commitment, empathy, and a deep desire to help others.  I have much to learn, but am excited to be making a difference in the lives of the people I am honored to work with.

I was born and raised in South Hadley and now live in Hadley alongside the Connecticut River.  I completed my undergraduate degree in Math, Psychology, and Education from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA in Accounting from American International College.  I continue to be self-employed with my home business, founded in 1990, devoted to helping small businesses with their bookkeeping, payroll, and accounting needs.

My deepest passion is my family.  I am married to the love of my life and we have one son who has recently graduated from college and is now pursuing a music career in Chicago.  I spent many years teaching gymnastics and horseback riding, and a lifetime camping and skiing. During the last few decades, you could always find me on the sidelines of a soccer field enjoying my son’s extensive soccer career.

Claire Holleman

Role at ACC: Intern

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I learned about Amherst Community Connections from the Career Center at Amherst College, where I was looking for opportunities to be more actively engaged in the community. I was drawn to this organization because of similar volunteer work that I had done in high school at a transitional housing program in my neighborhood. I believe that every person is entitled to a place to call home, and ACC is committed to making this a reality to each person who walks through our doors. Solving the housing crisis is the first step to solving so many of the other issues that we are facing today, and so I think that doing this type of work will build skills and provide perspectives that are important for any career that I could potentially have in the future. I think Amherst Community Connections’ multifaceted approach to overcoming obstacles is very unique, and it is amazing the variety of resources they are able to provide. I also feel that getting out of the Amherst campus bubble every week is important, as it serves as a reminder that there is a real world out there, and there are bigger problems facing our world that what Val is serving for dinner.

My favorite part of working at Amherst Community Connections is listening to the stories and advice of our clients. Each person that comes in is determined to make a change in their life, and has an empowering message to share about what they are willing to sacrifice to make this change. I love meeting new people, and building relationships with clients who I have gotten to work with multiple times. As a volunteer, I always try to bring open ears and a smile, and a genuine interest in the person I am working with, so that I can do my best to help find a solution to their obstacles. I love writing resumes, because it seems like there is a story that goes with every job a person has had and I love hearing stories! I also try to bring a sense of optimism to every conversation I have with a client. By walking in our door, they are showing initiative that they want to make a change in their life, and with that change comes so much hope.

In my free time, I love skiing!!!! I also enjoy baking cookies, reading Harry Potter (and other books!), exploring the mountains, driving and singing Taylor Swift, and spending time with my friends, family, and dogs.

Jenny Mazzella

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Role at ACC: Intern

I am so happy to be interning at Amherst Community Connection and play a small part in the important work being done here. This past summer I interned at a prosecutor’s office where I saw first hand how people were disadvantaged due to uncontrollable, environmental factors. Many people were in unfortunate situations that may have been avoidable had they been provided with support. My experience over the summer highlighted the importance of proactively providing support and relief to vulnerable individuals and families, which is why I was drawn to be a part of Amherst Community Connection. As a one-stop resource center, Amherst Community Connections works to provide individualized assistance and longterm support in any way possible to members of the community in need of support. I am so happy to have the opportunity to help with the hands-on work done by this organization and work alongside so many wonderful people trying to make a difference for people in need in the Amherst community.

In addition to volunteering at ACC, I am a junior at Amherst College majoring in Economics.  In my free time, I enjoy running and I am on the Amherst College Track and Field team. I love being a part of a team, competing and cheering on my teammates. I also enjoy hiking and biking with my friends and my family whenever possible.

Kennedy Countess

Role at ACC: Intern

I first learned about Amherst Community Connections from two other Amherst Students who worked here last year.  After hearing them speak about their experiences, I was eager to have a chance to work diligently in an environment that requires independence from its interns and centers its participants’ needs. Working with ACC will help me learn how to be a better advocate for housing issues and how housing can affect healthcare needs. I first encountered the effects of housing on health while working for the ACLU after the summer of my freshman year of college. I helped a lawyer compile research  to build an argument that cited the health benefits, along with monetary savings, that result from living in areas with less concentrated poverty and violence and more green space. I found conducting research valuable as a basis for understanding housing issues, but I would like to spend time working more directly with those experiencing homelessness in order to become a better advocate for these issues.

To ACC, I bring a sincere interest in listening and learning from others, a positive attitude, a passion for problem-solving, and knowledge of the interrelation of social issues. I’ve already had many meaningful conversations with participants and look forward to having many more and supporting them in any way needed.

In my free time, you can most likely find me listening to podcasts such as Still Processing and Code Switch, searching for the perfect cheeseburger, or admiring Beyoncé’s latest Instagram post.

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. 

Dave Barnett

Role at ACC: 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!