Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Cornell Students Commandeer HACbeat

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, May 08, 2015 @ 03:25 PM
DSC 0780 resized 600Cornell University students Joon Jeong (from left), Allison Laphen, Irene Bae, Anum Chaudhry, Breanna Ross and Nupur Bhatt spent their alternative spring break “hijacking” HACbeat, creating content for this month’s newsletter. 

Staff in HAC’s communications and development department have the chance to interact with a wide array of clients and colleagues with incredible stories, ranging from tragedy to triumph and everything in between.

“We get to see people at all different levels,” Julie Wake, the director of that department, said. “It is very exciting, especially because people are very interesting to me.”

Wake made the statement on the first of a four-day session in which six students from Cornell University had a chance to “hijack” HACbeat, taking over the responsibility of writing HAC’s monthly newsletter from Chris Kazarian and meeting the nonprofit’s employees who deliver housing services as well as clients who are the recipients of their hard work.

It provided the Ivy League contingent with an opportunity to immerse themselves in HAC culture, whether it was learning about the Cape Homes program that assists the region’s homeless from client services manager Anne Marie Peters or talking with shelter clients like Connie Pinkney about their dreams for the future. Pinkney’s goal was simple: she wants to one day be able to take care of her husband.

The students saw the gritty side of Cape Cod, in the form of a homeless couple, roughly the same age as them, staying at The Village at Cataumet, trying to get back on their feet, not just for themselves, but for the baby they were expecting. What they took out of these types of interactions during their short time here was not despair, but something much more positive.

“I found them to have a lot of hope considering their situation,” said Anum Chaudhry, a master’s student at Cornell. “They were ready to fix their situation for their baby. That was really an inspiration for me. And they were so young which was interesting because they have experienced more in life although they are younger than me.”

The trip leader, Breanna Ross, a sophomore from New Jersey studying industrial and labor relations, agreed, saying that she saw a resilience in those that HAC serves. “It seems like there are a lot of good people who had trouble in life and are going through bad times and are doing everything they can to get out of it and continue to live their life and live their dreams,” she said.

Junior Nupur Bhatt of Indianapolis, acknowledged that HAC has been successful in helping clients realize their dreams. “Clearly what you are doing is making a difference,” she said.

DSC 7349 resized 600Trip leader Breanna Ross with one of the cookies she baked, in the shape of Cape Cod, at HAC's Angel House shelter in Hyannis. 

Over the course of their time at HAC, the students – sophomore Allison Laphen of Rittman, Ohio, freshman Irene Bae of Long Island, New York, and sophomore Joon Jeong of Dallas, Texas, rounded out the group - had a chance to explore the NOAH Shelter, bake Easter-themed cookies with mothers at Angel House, go ice skating in Hyannis with children living in shelter and visit the National Seashore.

The trip concluded on Thursday with a dinner in which the group shared photos and stories from their alternative spring break with HAC staff and local Cornell alumni Barbara Conolly of Mashpee, and John Banner of Falmouth. HAC CEO Rick Presbrey expressed a genuine appreciation for students and the 11-year collaboration between the college and the nonprofit. “You all are impressive folks,” he said. “It is so amazing to meet people who have their heads screwed on right.”

While he acknowledged the agency always learns something valuable from the students that visit HAC on an annual basis every spring, it was apparent that this year’s group experienced a similar enlightenment. “I wanted to do something useful on my spring break instead of being home and wasting time,” Nupur said. “I learned a lot and I’ve definitely been inspired to continue volunteering within my own community.”

DSC 7396 resized 600The Cornell contingent were joined at their farewell dinner by alumni from the Cape Cod chapter of the Ivy League school Barbara Conolly (far left) of Mashpee, and John Banner (far right) of Falmouth. 

Tags: Cornell, alternative spring break, HACbeat, Rick Presbrey