Our dedicated team of community volunteers and student interns

Our dedicated team of community volunteers and student interns

Hwei-Ling Greeney

Founder and Executive Director of Amherst Community Connections

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


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


Tom Ehrgood

Role at ACC: Case Work and Legal Advising

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


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


Pat Creaser

Role in ACC: Community Outreach and Incubator Meeting Facilitator

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


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


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Lillian Coleman

Role in ACC: Case Work and Office Staff

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


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


Ezzell Floranina

Role in ACC: Grant Writing and Incubator Meeting Facilitator

Originally from Texas, Ezzell has been a member of the Pioneer Valley community since she moved here from Quebec, Canada in the fall of 1994. Ezzell lived in Canada from 1979 to 1994 in Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec working as a teacher for the deaf, stiltwalker and clown. After moving to the Pioneer Valley, she took on the position of Special Needs Director of Amherst Leisure Services (LSSE), making sure that the adult and youth programs were accessible and inclusive. In ‘99, she began to offer theater classes to the adults that she worked with. The classes were such a hit, that the following spring, in April 2000, The Rainbow Players, was born! Now in its 16th year, The Rainbow Players have traveled across the U.S. to Chicago and Omaha to present in conferences as well as traveling abroad to Ireland (twice) and England.  After a budget downturn, she left LSSE and founded the organization, Empowerment Through the Arts International. http://www.etta-international.org/  She is now completing her Thesis in a Graduate program at Lesley University.  Ezzell, who has known Hwei-Ling for almost as long has she has been in the Pioneer Valley, came to be involved at Amherst Community Connections when she happened to run into her long-time friend at a festival a little over a year ago. After some catching up, Hwei-Ling invited Ezzell, whose years of experience are invaluable, to come check out ACC. After a visit or two during drop-in hours Ezzell graciously accepted adding that she found it important to “support the great work that Hwei-Ling does” here at ACC.


Ezzell, a fun-loving and creative spirit who makes a mean Gluten free German chocolate cake, has a wide variety of activities that she pursues in her downtime. When she’s not busy working, studying, or directing The Rainbow Players, Ezzell enjoys swimming, dancing, making art, and most notably- stilt dancing. How she got into such an interesting and unique hobby was just by chance. “I got onto my first pair of stilts in ‘86,” she said, explaining that a stilt company offered to give away a free pair of stilts to each person if they made their own costume, learned how to walk on them, and then performed after mastering the skill. So Ezzell set to work, and on April Fool’s Day in 1986 Ezzell performed as a stilt dancer for the first time, and the rest is history. In addition to stilt-dancing, Ezzell also told me that she has “a great collection of kids books”, diverse and with a wide multicultural message, the most recent addition written by Toni Morrison with her grandson, Slade Morrison:  "The Big Box".  Kids are loving this book so far, ready to stage a revolt against anyone trying to make them fit inside a box while saying they are "free"!  That's Ezzell- always looking for ways to support and empower!


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!


Wilma Aiken

Role at ACC: Case Work

I am a social worker who has worked with young children for the past ten years. Many of the families that I worked with were in homeless shelters and I found working with this population a good use of my social work skills.  I am interested in continuing in working with individuals who are either at risk of or already homeless.  I met with Hwei-Ling to discuss homeless services in the Pioneer Valley and ways in which I might learn more about working with homeless population as a way to improve my qualifications of being hired by an organization which serves the homeless population. 

I have had experience working in case management and enjoy the  process of assisting  individuals to define and prioritize their needs.  This process hopefully will help them to get a clearer picture of what they are looking for while giving me a clearer understanding of how I can use m;y knowledge, skills and ACC resources to help them meet those needs.  The best part of that process is when the person finally gets that  job which they applied for or their name finally comes to the top of the housing list, or they recieve MassHealth so they can get appropriate medical care.  It is nice to know, that with our help the person may have the money to meet their basic needs, may be able to access medical care and may get adequate housing.  It makes the job worthwhile!

In my spare time, I am busy with looking for permanent employment.  I am very involved with the North Hadley Congregational Church and spend time helping prepare suppers which we do three times a year and serving as a deacon.  In addition to volunteering at ACC, I also volunteer once a month to a program called Take and Eat which provides weekend meals to the elderly and once weekly I co-run a play group for children in a shelter in Springfield. When not job-searching and volunteering I am an avid reader and participate in a book club at the Chicopee Library. This summer, I joined a hiking group at Mt Tom Reservation which provided hikes three times a week on Mt. Tom


Priya Zander Fox

Role at ACC: Housing First Social Worker

Priya moved to the Pioneer Valley in 1994 from Hoboken, N.J. Drawn to this area by its beautiful landscape, diversity of arts, level of social consciousness, and family ties, she felt it would be a wonderful place to live and raise her daughter. A lifelong interest in spirituality and healing has led Priya to study multiple disciplines in the Healing Arts including: Kabbalistic Healing, Brennan Healing Science, herbalism, and meditation, all of which she uses in her twenty-five year private practice, where she offers spiritual counseling and energy healing. 

After taking a hiatus from college in 1981, Priya returned to complete her bachelors degree in social work from Elms College in 2016. It was during her social work internship at The Caring Health Center in Springfield, Ma. that she first met Hwei-Ling Greeney.  Frustrated by the lack of resources she encountered while working with a married couple who was homeless, Priya sought help from ACC. She was immediately impressed with ACC’s dedicated mission to serve the most vulnerable members of our community with dignity, care, and respect--a mission that aligns with her own core values and heart.

As the social worker for the Housing First Program (HF), Priya is dedicated to serving the needs of each person who comes through the program with dignity and compassion. Her goal is twofold: First, and most importantly, to give full support to HF lottery recipients in securing housing as a stable foundation in their lives. Second, once housing is secured, to support each client in realizing their personal goals towards creating a sustainable and fulfilling life. It is also Priya’s mission to expand our perspectives regarding what someone without a home looks like, challenging our cultural views on homelessness.  Homelessness can occur in anyone's life, at any stage. People encountering homelessness do not fall into a single category. They are mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers--many of whom are caretakers to friends and family. They are professionals, homemakers, workers, artists, and students; people seeking the same happiness we all seek.

In her free time, Priya enjoys spending time volunteering, walking in nature, practicing yoga, singing kirtan, swimming, cooking, gardening, and studying astrology. She delights in learning and experiencing new things and ideas. As an extroverted introvert she also enjoys connecting with people in a deep and meaningful way. Growing up in and around New York City, Priya enjoys spending time there, seeing theater (especially her playwright daughter’s works on stage!), going to museums, trying new foods, and taking in the energy of the city. Most of all, she enjoys a good laugh, and sharing life’s simple pleasures with her daughter, family, friends, and her beloved partner Noel.


Dr. Richard Martin, D.Min.

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

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

Role at ACC: Peaceful Conflict Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Abra Lipton

Role at ACC: Communications Intern, Newsletter Editor, and Web Design

Abra--a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst--began interning at Amherst Community Connections after finding out about the opportunity through UMass’s Career Connect portal. She was drawn to an internship at ACC because she hopes to one day have a career in the field of social service, working with non-profit organizations. She’s not set on her career path, but enjoys work with marketing, business operations, and web design, however, she would prefer to work in an organization doing good rather than a large corporation. She considered other internships, such as working with a large marketing firm, but chose to intern at ACC to gain more real, hands-on experience. Abra is pursuing a major in Communication and a minor in Sociology at UMass, her studies focus on marketing, the media, and activism. She is contemplating many options for jobs after UMass, such as a career in a creative marketing firm, at a non-profit, or joining Americorps after graduation. Abra’s main vision for her career is to do work that makes a difference and helps people, and to not be sucked into the corporate world. Abra’s responsibilities at ACC are mainly behind the scenes; they include creating and editing the newsletter, managing the website and Facebook page, and casework when time permits.

When Abra first started college, she was planning on becoming a veterinarian. Although her career goals have changed, she still has a strong connection with animals. She enjoys dog sitting when she has the time, is a vegetarian, and is part of P-NUT (Plant Based Nutrition), which is a vegetarian/vegan and nutrition club at UMass. She also labels herself a feminist and is a member of USRJ, which stands for UMass Students for Reproductive Justice. USRJ is an organization whose goal is to educate the university community about reproductive health and rights. Abra enjoys being creative, especially through painting, crafting, and creative writing.


Lily Frank

Role at ACC: Research and Case Work

I wanted to intern with Amherst Community Connections because I wanted to gain more experience in a work environment before graduating at the end of the year, and I wanted the work that I do to have a positive impact on the community. I have volunteered at the Amherst Survival Center in the past and enjoyed working there, but what I really like about ACC is that ACC has a focused very, long-term vision to help people. Interning at ACC gives me valuable experience and insight into the challenges that impoverished people face and what it takes to make lasting change in people’s lives.

Amherst Community Connections is a good fit because the mission of ACC fits in well with my personal values. I believe that it is important to give back to others and that in order to do so, people need to be at a secure and stable point in their lives. I hope that by working at ACC I can help people reach that point, as well as grow and develop personally and professionally. When I was looking at ACC’s website before I started interning here, one thing that resonated with me is that part of the logo says “Housing is THE Solution to Homelessness.” This strengthened my desire to work at ACC and let me know that working there would be a good fit because I knew I could learn a lot as well as help to provide something of value by working at ACC.

My spare time is rather limited at the moment between balancing school, working at ACC, and preparing for graduation. When I do have spare time, I enjoy spending time with friends, listening to music, playing piano, swimming, and watching movies and documentaries. Music has always been a big part of my life, and it has been very useful in helping me not get too stressed out. Some things that I wish I had more time to do are exercising and cooking-the thought of not having a meal plan in 6 months is a little daunting.


Sam Boon

Role at ACC: Research and Case Work

When I heard about Amherst Community Connections, I yearned to get involved as soon as possible. Entering my senior year in college, I needed to prepare for a career and though I was unsure of the specifics, I knew that I needed to participate in something substantive and positive. I’ve had volunteered in soup kitchens before and found that work to be valuable. That being said, I felt it necessary to broaden my experiential horizons while still maintaining an anti-poverty ethos. Outreach programs offered by ACC, such as case management, prisoner rehabilitation and advocacy seemed like the next logical step!

Because of ACCs commitment to poverty alleviation, I know that I can learn a lot from the organization. I hope to provide something of value to the organization in return. I am particularly enthusiastic about the aspects of inmate outreach and case management. The former, because I hope to work towards a career of prison abolition and talking to people who are victims of the prison industrial complex is one of the best ways to understand the predatory aspect of the system. The latter to give me a better understanding of inaccessibility to basic necessities like food and shelter. My mom and dad founded a soup kitchen in Bronx,NY called Part Of The Solution, (abbreviated: P.O.T.S). That legacy is something that I’ve always looked up to them for – and it taught me from a young age of the importance of poverty alleviating work.

In my personal time, when I’m not rushing to complete assignments for school, I can usually be found playing guitar, listening to music, reading books or playing video games. I often times get distracted by the internet, but it’s a habit I’m trying to kick for the sake of productivity. When the time and opportunity presents itself (as I don’t have a kitchen or a lenient schedule), I enjoy cooking very much. Sleep is not so much something I enjoy in my free time as much as it is something that I need a lot of to thrive happily. Some people can get by on six hours a day, but I need at least nine for a good mood.


Elizabeth Woods

Role at ACC: Event Coordinator

As a political science major at UMass, I am interested in helping those in less powerful positions to have a voice and have access to government resources. As a part of my senior thesis, I have studied the U.S. welfare system. A large problem with the system is its inaccessibility and complicated requirements and regulations. I am happy to be working with ACC to help people work through the complicated application procedures and also to find out what assistance they are eligible for. I would like to work on advocacy to make this system more accessible to people in need, and ACC provides a great service to help with this problem. Though I do not know exactly what I want to do in the future, I do know that I want to do work with non-profit organizations that help those in need. ACC provides a great stepping stone for me to find out how a non-profit is run and how it can successfully help people.

I believe that my organizational skills and patience help me to successfully take part in ACC’s work. Helping people get the help they need can be a difficult process that requires patience, as does working to make systemic changes. My determination to reduce inequality in the U.S. makes ACC a great place for me to work. I have a desire to research this problem and seek solutions.

Outside of my work at ACC, I love to run. I ran cross country and track in high school, and have continued to run on my own and do occasional races since starting college. I always do the hot chocolate run in Northampton for Safe Passages and I recently ran my first half marathon in October 2016 and hope to do another in the spring. I trained for months, partially on my own, and partially with my good friend who ran the race with me. Although running is hard and often painful in the moment, I always feel great afterwards and I hope to do a full marathon one day.


Gabe, pictured left, with his father.

Gabe, pictured left, with his father.

Gabe Zarkadas

Role at ACC: Casework and Social Media

I was primarily drawn to Amherst Community Connections by the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with individuals in need of help. I found ACC through career connect at UMass and thought their mission aligned with my values, skill set, as well as what I hope to get out of an internship.  I have taken psychology and sociology classes in which I have learned about disadvantaged folks and those with mental disorders. However, this education never expanded past the class room. I thought the ACC would be a perfect organization for me to apply my education to the real world. Learning how to do case work is a way for me to orient myself to the field of social work. I plan on going to graduate school in order to obtain a master’s degree in social work. I feel as though ACC is an excellent organization for me to learn from case workers, social workers, as well as the participants themselves.

The skills that I feel will help further the mission of the ACC include my commitment to helping others, my writing ability, and willingness to learn and undertake new tasks. In the time I have already spent interning at ACC, it has become clear that there are a wide range of tasks to be trained in. I have learned quickly regarding case work and helping participants. My willingness to learn new ways to help individuals will help me moving forward with ACC. I hope to learn the best strategies to use in working one-on-one with participants to empower them, to the best of my ability. In regards to my writing ability, I hope to be able to work with researchers at ACC to help them articulate research findings. This might be done in the monthly newsletter, on Facebook posts, or in other tasks as needed. I hope to be able to work with Hwei-Ling on her research project regarding sex offender’s social lives following their conviction/offenses.

Most of my spare time is spent playing guitar and listening to music. Music is one of my biggest passions in life. I grew up around my father always playing guitar and playing instruments eventually came naturally to me. I also enjoy cooking very much. I find that in some ways cooking and playing guitar are similar. That is, I very rarely use a recipe or read music that might constrain my creativity; in fact, I don’t even know how to read music. Rather, I build upon my improvisational experiences each time finding new ways to produce either music or food that is personally satisfying. I also enjoy playing basketball with friends for fun. I have always enjoyed watching basketball and began playing after I graduated high school. Since then I try to play as much as possible to get exercise and become a better player.


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Hannah Jin

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.


Lauren White

Role at ACC: Event Management and Casework

In today’s society many people are burdened with hardships that make their daily lives troublesome and stressful. As I browsed the internet I came upon the Amherst Community Connections website and instantly felt a connection with their mission and the goals they strive to meet with their participants. As a member of a large group on campus that often works with the Amherst community, I was drawn to the idea that I could advocate for members of a community that I feel so passionate about. Amherst Community Connections inspired me to use my skills and knowledge to aid others in locating a job or securing affordable housing.

In order to help others it is essential to have skills and experience working with the community. As the president of an organization on campus, I oversee the general operations of over 100 members on a daily basis. I am also able to handle multiple demands for commitment of time, energy, and resources. These skills can transfer to ACC in a variety of ways. I also have excellent oral and written communication skills which are imperative when working directly with the participants as well as communicating news and events to the Amherst community. Additionally, I have experience keeping social media platforms up to date through an internship I completed over the summer which dealt with the SNAP program.

There are many things I enjoy doing in my free time with number one being reading. My favorite genre is mystery or thriller, such as the recent book and movie, “Girl on the Train.” In the warmer months you can find me on the beach getting a tan, reading my book, and of course swimming! There is no better feeling than the sand on your toes and the salt water in your hair. Additionally, I enjoy water skiing with my father and trying to reach my goal of only using one ski! A last thing I do for fun is trying out different restaurants around town. I love the different atmospheres and cuisine they have to offer.


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Owen Bailey

Role at ACC: Communications intern and Fundraising

The mission of ACC is something that I admire greatly. I stumbled upon the organization through career services at UMass and immediately wanted to help with their work. Throughout my schooling career, I have spent a lot of time researching marginalized populations in the US and how to help. Interning at ACC seemed to be the best way to help in a hands-on manner making a real difference. Alongside this, I grew up in a family that put a great emphasis on giving back, something that I am very grateful for. I have been doing work volunteering at local food pantries and churches for a good part of my life. Interning at ACC seemed to be a perfect way to continue doing work where I can help people and give back to those in need.

I feel that my skills in writing, communication, research, and my eagerness to learn will serve me well at ACC. Out of these, I think communication is really the key. A lot of what ACC does is communicate with those in need, to learn about them and decide the best way to help them with their unique set of problems. Talking to the people who come in, getting to know them, and learning more about who they are is something that is very important. Writing and research are also important, as it facilitates communication between ACC and the community about different people, ideas, and events through the newsletter, Facebook, and other mediums. However, what might be most vital is being willing and eager to learn. I have spent a short time at ACC, and it has become clear that there are a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities to be taken care of, with many of which I am not familiar. Being able to adapt to new situations and duties is something that is important to working productively here.

Aside from interning, I enjoy a variety of activities in my downtime. I love competitive sports, especially basketball and football. I played both in high school and I am at the UMass recreation center almost every day playing pickup basketball games. I also enjoy art, both making and appreciating. If I’m not at the rec center, I am probably in my room drawing, painting, or doing some sort of craft. I am all over the place artistically, having blown glass, blacksmithed, done art with recycled metal and an arc welder, and taken classical painting courses. Next, I plan to start customizing and painting shoes for students on campus.


Anna Chaiken

Role in ACC: Legal Resources Research and Case Management

Anna came to Amherst nearly two years ago when she entered the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a freshman looking to go some place new where she could come into herself as a young woman. Now a sophomore Biology major at the University, Anna has settled into the Amherst community nicely and has found that she really enjoys it. Being a student in the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass, Anna found herself involved at Amherst Community Connections when she was interested in doing some volunteer work and happened across a pamphlet about ACC in one of the Honor College’s buildings. After looking through the pamphlet she contacted Hwei-Ling, whom she recalls eagerly inviting her to “come on down,” offering to “put [her] right to work!” Which is exactly what happened when she came in to the drop-in-hours that first day, gaining experience doing casework. Anna never looked back, and now finds much of her time focused on researching legal resources and compiling a “cheat sheet” that participants can refer to for help with legal problems ranging from sealing records to getting legal counsel.


Outside of ACC Anna enjoys playing Frisbee. She is also involved in the TEDX UMass Amherst group and is responsible for doing outreach for them. Her greatest passion, however, is photography, with film being her preferred medium. “My whole room is covered with prints of photos I have taken,” she says proudly. When asked if she develops her own; “I used to back home since my high school had a dark room, but since I came to college I haven’t been able to… I’ve heard that there’s a dark room somewhere on campus that you can sign up or pay to use, but I just haven’t had the time to look into it,” she lamented, adding that while she doesn’t miss the smell of the chemicals, she misses the peacefulness of the dark room and the process of developing film under the dim red light, citing it as a kind of haven to her. As for the Amherst area, Anna speaks fondly of it, “I love the Cider Donuts, I never even knew they were a thing before coming here!” She also appreciates the safety and the general vibe of the Pioneer Valley. Anna admits though that the vast quantities of snow during the winter and the high temperatures experienced during the summer took her by surprise and required some adjusting to. “It rains about two-thirds of the year there, and when it snows we rarely get more than a few inches, even then everything shuts down. And during the summer it’s usually in the high-sixties to mid-seventies, it’s nothing like here.” The weather, however, doesn’t seem to be a deterrent to Anna though, since she hopes to stay in Massachusetts after she graduates, hoping to move closer to Boston and going into fields related to either genetics or the environment.


Laura, pictured left, with her father in Madrid, Spain

Laura, pictured left, with her father in Madrid, Spain

Laura Flynn

Role in ACC: Events Coordinator and Case Management 

I sought out an internship at Amherst Community Connections after happening upon the job listing through UMass’s student employment posting. I initially had not planned to take an internship for the summer, but after I read up on the agency’s work I realized it was a perfect fit for me. After my informational interview, which I spent meeting with Hwei-Ling and participating in the weekly Incubator Meeting, I was certain I wanted to work with ACC. It will serve as fantastic hands on experience to ready me for my future career goals, while exposing me to the experiences and perseverance of others. As a double major in Psychology and Legal Studies, plus a sociology minor with a social work certification track, my experience and skills have well prepared me for a job serving those experiencing homelessness or poverty. My studies in law have exposed me to the intricacies of the American legal system, my studies in psychology have taught me to be sensitive to the needs and struggles of others, and my work in sociology has educated me on the policies and laws that directly affect vulnerable groups, as well as strategies to improve our social landscape. I have also developed skills in research and synthesize, allowing me to access available resources and information with relative ease. I am extremely excited to help those in need, while building on the skills and experiences I have already allotted. 

 

When I am not busy with my coursework at UMass or my job as a server, I enjoy spending time outdoors with friends and family. I find peace in singing and playing piano, which I have practiced since I was 8 years old. On any given night, after a long day of working and studying, you can find me on my couch keeping up with some of my favorite Netflix shows (my top being House of Cards) and documentaries. My parents value travel and real-life experience, so we travel often. I have been to 9 countries; among my most life-changing moments were visiting Machu Picchu, in Peru, at sunrise and Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps, in Poland. While I am not able to travel as frequently as I would like, I would definitely say that immersing myself in other cultures and broadening my perspective is my favorite way to spend my time. 


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Emma Sander

Role in ACC: Casework and Newsletter Editor

I first learned about Amherst Community Connections from a classmate in one of my Sociology classes while looking for an internship for the summer.  I am majoring in Sociology (on the social work track), so I was immediately drawn to the work Amherst Community Connections does for homeless and low income individuals in the Amherst area.  The emphasis on the importance of community is demonstrated in practice and creates a truly supportive environment for both the participant and the case worker.  I am excited to work with participants in such an environment, learning about their individual experiences and understanding how to best support them in finding long term solutions.  As a Sociology major, I study how societal systems actively work against minority groups, despite their already disadvantaged standings.  I will bring my background in Sociology to ACC as well as my “can-do” attitude.  I am a passionate and driven worker, but it is my openness to learn and listen that will guide my experience with ACC, especially in a position that relies so heavily on communication.  I firmly believe we learn best by experience and understanding those around us and their experiences- human connection is so important.

Outside of ACC, I work at a restaurant on campus as a server and you can often find me in the library doing my school work.  Other than that, I am a member of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players, which is a peer health education comedy troupe and we perform skits about public health issues, social identities, social justice, healthy relationships, and language.  We perform for incoming freshman and their summer orientations and during the year in residence halls on campus.  I am also the president of the UMass Student Adoption Advisory Board, a board of adopted students at UMass.  Our mission is to advocate for and support adopted students and to advise adoptees, non-adoptees, and parents on topics surrounding adoption.  We aim to raise awareness about the misinformation and stigmas surrounding adoption as well.  When I have free time, I spend it with my friends and family and my dog (Ginger)!  I love having long conversations with the people I care about most.  I also really enjoy being outside, playing ukulele, singing, and listening to music… but my favorite activity is sleeping!


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Sadie Mazur

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. 


Ed Kaler

Role in ACC: Administrative Asst. (Grant Research, Case Management)

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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.


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Brian Eckelkamp

Role in ACC: Casework and Social Media

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

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

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


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Daniella Colombo

Role in ACC: Newsletter Editor and Casework

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

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

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


Beselot Birhanu

Role in ACC: Casework

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

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

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