Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

A Decade-Long Relationship Between HAC and Cornell

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, May 21, 2014 @ 10:28 AM

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This year Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) is not only celebrating its 40th anniversary, it is also observing another important milestone – a 10-year relationship with Cornell University which has been sending a small contingent of students to Cape Cod for one week every April to help address the region’s housing issues.

“I think the primary value is that it provides a real sense of optimism,” HAC CEO Rick Presbrey said of what the students from the Ivy League college have brought to the Cape’s non-profit since 2005. “First of all, I am always impressed with what a wonderful group of kids they are. They give up their spring break so it gives you optimism for the future. And they accomplish a lot in such a short period of time so it gives inspiration to us on what can be accomplished.”

This year six Cornell students made the trek from Ithaca, New York to Hyannis, to educate juniors and seniors at Barnstable High School and Dennis-Yarmouth High School on the importance of financial literacy, covering everything from creating personal budgets to balancing wants versus needs.

“It was a thrill to see how the high school students were open to hearing from people a few years ahead of them and so willing to ask questions,” said Cheryl Kramer, HAC’s manager for consumer education, who was responsibile for overseeing the Cornell students’ work throughout the week.

Catherine Richards, an English teacher at Barnstable, said the Cornell presentation served as an invaluable resource for her students. “I think it is exciting for them to learn from their peers as opposed to a teacher,” she said.

And she said the topic is paramount, particularly for those students who want to continue living on the Cape past high school or college. “I teach a whole unit on the cost of living with the idea of how to save in order to get a good house, but also how much it will cost to stay on Cape Cod and raise a family and have children,” she said.  

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The Cornell students which included freshman Breanna Ross (industrial and labor relations) of South Brunswick, New Jersey; sophomore Grace An (policy analysis and management) of Anaheim, California; sophomore Christine Chow (biological sciences) of San Jose, California; sophomore Caleb Hulbert (human biology, health and society) of Gloversville, New York; junior Pragyashree (Prag) Sharma Basyal (biology & society) of Baltimore, Maryland; Zeyu Yao of China (master’s in civil and environmental engineering), also attended HAC’s annual meeting, toured the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, and spent a few hours making crafts and eating pizza with children at the Village at Cataumet.

For Caleb, the most rewarding aspect of the trip was spending time at the Village at Cataumet where he decorated picture frames with four-year-old Lillian. “She really made a huge impact on me,” he said. “You don’t think of her as being homeless. You think about her as ‘Lillian.’ She is just like anyone else. It was really eye-opening because you tend to think about homelessness in terms of statistics.”

Grace had a similar reaction following her visit to the NOAH Shelter. “It was really tough just seeing the space where they were living,” she said. “It was very emotional for me because homelessness is a big issue in my [hometown]. It gives you a lot of respect for the volunteers and staff who work there.”

Though she is unsure of what she will do after college, Grace has expressed an interest in working for a non-profit. “I feel like it is a really meaningful way to live life, especially if it has as big of an impact as HAC,” she said.

Tags: Cornell, alternative spring break, Prag Basyal, HAC, Christine Chow, housing assistance corporation, Rick Presbrey

Cornell Student Returns to HAC for Alternative Spring Break

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, May 06, 2014 @ 03:42 PM

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Cornell University sophomore Christine Chow (right) decorates handmade picture frames with Nellyda and Josmalyz at the Village at Cataumet.

For all but one of the six Cornell students who assisted Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) in April, it was their first introduction to life on this side of the canal.

But San Jose’s Christine Chow, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences, is one step closer than her peers to attaining true Cape Codder status, having visited here last year as part of Cornell University Public Service Center’s alternative spring break program.

Every April the Ivy League college encourages its students to spend their spring break giving back to communities as close as Ithaca, New York, and as far away as Orlando, Florida. Over the past 10 years Cornell has sent a contingent to Cape Cod to assist HAC in carrying out its mission.

In 2013 Chow was part of a team that was tasked to improve marketing efforts for HAC’s gift card program that helps to fund the non-profit’s Project Prevention which is aimed at keeping residents struggling with mortgage payments or bills in their homes. 

This year Chow returned as the team leader, working with her peers, under the guidance of Cheryl Kramer, the department manager of HAC’s consumer education center, to create a presentation on financial literacy targeted to students at Barnstable High School and Dennis-Yarmouth High School.

During the two weeklong stints Chow has spent at HAC, she has developed a deep respect for the wide variety of programs aimed at helping the region’s neediest residents. “It has been interesting to see how HAC has such a big presence on the Cape in addressing its housing issues,” she said, adding that she has also enjoyed witnessing the dedication of HAC staff. “I am always impressed, both last year and this year, at how positive, welcoming and enthusiastic the HAC employees are.”

Though she is unsure whether she will attend an alternative spring break as a junior or senior, Chow hopes to continue finding ways to help others, regardless of their socioeconomic status, as she plans on pursuing a career in the medical field as a doctor. “I really like the scientific approach and using science to be able to help people because health is an issue that impacts all people’s lives and their quality of life,” she said.

Learn more about last year's project that Cornell University students worked on for HAC here. And look for more stories about this year's Cornell spring break trip to Cape Cod in this month's HACbeat! 

Tags: Cornell, alternative spring break, Project Prevention, HAC, Christine Chow