Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Cornell Students Learn Alongside HAC Clients

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, May 04, 2017 @ 01:19 PM
Cornell-1.jpgHAC Volunteer Coordinator Mary Everett-Patriquin (left), HAC CEO Alisa Galazzi (third from right), and HAC Board Member Paul Melville (far right) with Cornell University’s Alicia Yang (from left), Piragash Swargaloganathan, Crystal Pascal, Luna Oiwa, Keenan Ashbrook and Sean Allen. 

At the beginning of last month, six Cornell University students spent four days learning about the importance of journaling, how to play the ukulele, and the basics of African dance and drumming, alongside HAC clients.

It was all tied to Cornell’s alternative spring break; for the past 13 years the Ivy League college has sent a small contingent of students to Cape Cod to learn about HAC’s work while helping to further the agency’s mission. This year the group took part in a collaborative learning process with clients at HAC’s Hyannis office as well as two of its family shelters, Carriage House in North Falmouth and the Village at Cataumet.

“Your questions and interest in HAC really invigorated the staff in ways we could not have predicted,” HAC CEO Alisa Galazzi told the group at their farewell dinner. “I really feel like the future is bright with you in it.”

That sentiment was reciprocated by the students who left impressed with the dedication and compassion that HAC staff showed towards their work. “Just seeing the passion for the work and the joy your staff has for helping people with knowledge, professionalism, and a warm heart is so inspirational to me,” Cornell freshman Alicia Yang said.

Trip leader Piragash Swargaloganathan, a sophomore at Cornell agreed, saying that the time spent at HAC was proof that people can affect positive change by pursuing a career in the social services.

Teaching Moments
The students said the specific workshops they took, from journaling to puppetry to playing the ukulele, had practical implications that could be applied to HAC’s programs. The group used puppets, for example, as a mechanism to teach children to read at the Village at Cataumet. “We found it was a bridge where we can go into their world,” Alicia said.

The ukulele, freshman Luna Oiwa said, “is an incredible stress reliever” and connected the Cornell students with the clients at Carriage House, as they came together, singing and strumming in harmony.

These specific moments spoke to a larger and more important lesson - “that we are all equal beings,” Piragash said.

“All the things we do are really universal,” something that freshman Keenan Ashbrook said he and his classmates learned through the journaling workshop taught by former Cape Cod Community President Kathleen Schatzberg.

Mary Wilson, who led the puppet workshop, also hosted the students with her husband at their Marstons Mills home. “I was able to witness a community come together,” she said of the week spent with the students. “Thank you for doing something for nothing. You are inspirational, thoughtful and socially-minded. I didn’t really know what I was expecting, but I’ve been so incredibly impressed with you.”

Tags: Cornell, alternative spring break, Cornell University, Family Shelter, Mary Everett Patriquin

HAC is on Instagram

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Sun, May 17, 2015 @ 09:15 AM

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During their time at HAC, Cornell students not only lent their voice to the agency’s monthly newsletter, but to its social media platform.

The group was responsible for helping HAC launch an Instagram account, adding to its current offerings on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “We see this as a way to add a more youthful message to the work we are doing,” said Julie Wake, HAC’s director of communications and development. “The programs and services we provide have a serious bent to them, but by using Instagram we want to visually show that helping others is not only cool, but can be a lot of fun.”

To follow HAC on Instagram, click this link or search haconcapecod when on your smart phone. And make sure to use the hashtag #HAConCapeCod when posting photos or videos of our events.

Tags: Julie Wake, Cornell, alternative spring break, Cornell University, HAC, social media, Instagram

HACbeat Editorial: Hope is the thing with Feathers

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Sat, May 16, 2015 @ 08:40 AM
DSC 7325 resized 600The Cornell students with children from The Village at Cataumet at the Hyannis Youth & Community Center.


Hope is found in many different forms at HAC. It can be seen in a little boy who keeps trying to skate after falling more than 20 times. It can be found in a home reunited after overcoming mental illness or a lack of housing stability. It can be seen in the loving looks between a couple trying to make their lives better for their first child they are expecting in July. Hope can even be seen in a clean room to sleep in for a night at the NOAH shelter. 

Hope, and often a second chance, is what HAC provides for the individuals it serves on a daily basis.

Being in the office for a week, our team was able to interview many staff and clients. The staff welcomed us with open arms and told stories of challenging themselves to be more successful in leading their clients towards stability. While all acknowledged that the work they do can be tiring at times, the way their faces lit up as they told stories of success and happiness showed where their motivation came from.

We came to HAC hoping to help the agency, but instead found ourselves reaping the benefits of working with such courageous staff and client population. The positivity and stories of conquering adversity, showed us that no matter where one ends up in life, there is always someone who will have their back. And that is something that should give us all hope.

Tags: Cornell, HACbeat, Cornell University, HAC, NOAH Shelter, hope

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

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 Shows There is No Right Way to Achieve Success

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Sat, May 10, 2014 @ 09:30 AM

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Prag bonded with Lillian at the Village at Cataumet.

On October 5, 2009 Pragyashree (Prag) Sharma Basyal celebrated her 18th birthday by coming to America with her family from Nepal. When she graduates from Cornell University in May 2015 she plans on fulfilling her American dream by becoming a US citizen.

“It is my graduation gift to myself,” she said to five of her peers situated inside the Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) headquarters in Hyannis, where the group volunteered during their school’s spring break.

Prag’s path to receiving her diploma is unusual and one that goes beyond having to adjust to a new country and its customs and norms. Her route was filled with obstacles that required daily sacrifices she considered normal, but many in her generation would not.

Shortly after arriving in the United States her parents got sick so Prag did what came natural – she cared for them with the help of her younger brother. “They are my first priority because I believe they did what they could and gave me everything they could when I was a child,” she said. “I think this is the time I have to give back: when they need me the most. I feel it is my responsibility because they took care of me when I was young.”

She balanced her commitment to her parents with finding a job, receiving her certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant through Baltimore City Community College, which allowed her to work at a long-term care facility and gave her the funds to support not only her needs, but to supplement those of her family.

On top of that she enrolled at the Community College of Baltimore County, juggling family and work obligations with school, graduating last year with an associates degree in biology and serving as the president of the college’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

Her academic success caught the attention of Cornell University which offered her a full scholarship. “I never expected I was going to get in,” Prag said, humbly. “When the financial package came in I pinched myself.”

Currently a junior, Prag is enjoying her first year at Cornell where she is in the Ivy League school’s biology & society program, with a minor in global health.

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Julie Wake, HAC's communications director, chats with Prag during a luncheon for the Cornell students. 

While on Cape Cod Prag shared her story with students at Barnstable High School and Dennis-Yarmouth High School, providing a shining example of how success does not have to come at the expense of others, especially family.

After one presentation, Prag had a high school student come up to her and express how much “she was inspired because of my story,” she said. “That really motivated me.”

As Prag continues on her path, there will undoubtedly be others who will find inspiration and realize that there is no one correct way to achieve your goals.

For Prag that goal is to one day become a doctor and use her degree to help the types of clients HAC sees on a daily basis. “I want to work for patients who do not have the opportunity to go to a hospital or have the ability to pay for it,” she said.

This summer she will experience the rewards of that kind of work when she takes part in Cornell’s eight-week summer program in Tanzania that will offer her the opportunity to combine scholarly work with the practical through a service-related project.

She is already preparing for that trip by learning Swahili which will only add to the growing list of languages she can speak: Nepalese, English, Hindi, Urdu and Spanish.

As to why she wants to get into medicine, Prag credited her parents, who both worked in similar fields in Nepal, for providing that direction. “I just saw my parents working in a hospital and helping others and how satisfied they were when somebody had been saved,” she said.

Tags: Cornell, alternative spring break, Prag Basyal, HAC

HAC: A Model for Addressing Housing Issues Nationwide

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, May 07, 2014 @ 09:45 AM

Dino Headshot

Now celebrating its 40th anniversary the Housing Assistance Corporation serves as a model for other non-profits and individuals looking to address housing issues throughout the country.

And that is exactly how Dino Tsipouroglou took advantage of his time on Cape Cod while accompanying six Cornell University students on their alternative spring break at the beginning of April.

Tsipouroglou, who served as the group’s driver during their trip, used his four days at HAC as a learning experience to help in efforts to improve the plight of the homeless population in his hometown of Ithaca, New York.

Those efforts have translated into the creation of Second Wind Cottages to house the chronically homeless. Located two miles from Ithaca in nearby Newfield, Tsipouroglou said, six units have already been built and were filled shortly after completion this past January. Another 12 more units will be added along with a community center.

The project started last summer and Tsipouroglou anticipated it should be complete in two years.

It is being funded primarily through private donations with backing from local churches, and they have tapped into crowdfunding on Indiegogo to raise over $14,000 for the cottages.

As he supports efforts to see the project to fruition, Tsipouroglou is also working as a case manager for the homeless.  The best part of that work, he said, “is I’m helping to be an advocate for the homeless and breaking down the traditional stereotypes about them like they are homeless because of their choices.”

This was the second year in a row that Tsipouroglou visited Cape Cod with the Cornell students, and he said he plans on taking the lessons from HAC and applying it to what he is doing in Ithaca. “The work HAC is doing is incredible,” he said. “I am so impressed with the scope and size of its operation, the prevention of homelessness and all they do with housing.” 

Tags: Cornell, alternative spring break, HAC, Dino Tsipouroglou

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

Student Was Shaped By Family’s Hardships

Posted by Julie Wake on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 @ 07:00 AM

Cornell student Steven Bramwell understands the challenges faced by the homeless clients HAC serves. Steven, who spent a week at HAC as part of the Alternative Spring Break team, and his family were homeless while he was in high school.
“My father has a chronic illness, and eventually we lost our home in Ohio,” Steven said. After a series of foreclosure notices and extensions, one day there was an eviction notice. With the help of some church members, Steven’s family put their possessions into storage and moved into temporary housing, including hotels.

The toughest part was “the constant stress of not knowing where we’d be the next month,” Steven said. “That was buffered because of my faith.”

Steven, who hopes to one day earn a Ph.D. in English, said, “It shapes my life to know that I have overcome this. I see the bright side of life so well.”

About HAC's Foreclosure Prevention:

In 2008, HAC started a Foreclosure Education and Prevention Center, where our experienced staff members respond to the increased need for counseling services that can help homeowners at risk of foreclosure. As of today, HAC has helped over 3,000 households with foreclosure counseling.

HAC is the only HUD-approved housing counseling agency serving Cape Cod and the Islands. This is a free service through HAC. Beware of foreclosure rescue offers that charge you money! You qualify if your primary residence is on Cape Cod or the Islands. There are no income or mortgage limits.

Read more: http://www.haconcapecod.org/programs-and-services/foreclosure-prevention/

Tags: Cornell, Project Prevention, Prevention, housing assistance corporation, Foreclosure, Cape Cod Caring Cards

Cornell Students Give Project Prevention a Boost

Posted by Julie Wake on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

Six students from Cornell spent their spring break with HAC. By the end of the week, they’d helped save someone from homelessness.
Cape Associates
After getting an introduction to HAC, the students learned about Project Prevention, a program that provides temporary financial assistance to families and individuals at risk of homelessness. The program is largely funded by the Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical Council to Prevent Homelessness and the Barnstable Interfaith Council. DYECH and BIC raise money by buying grocery gift certificates, getting a 5 percent discount, and selling them at face value. The “profit” is then donated to Project Prevention.

The students’ goal for the week was to develop a presentation that will improve outreach efforts to sell the grocery gift cards. After meeting representatives from DYECH and BIC, and hearing from several clients, the students started by creating a survey. They were seeking to find out how much staff members at HAC, Emerald Physicians and Cape Associates know about the gift card program and what barriers might prevent them from participating in it.

The students came up with the name Cape Cod Caring Cards and a tagline: “Help your neighbors keep their homes, every time you shop.” They created a spoken presentation with visuals, including a logo.

After getting feedback from a test run with HAC staffers, the students delivered the presentation to members of the Emerald Physicians management team. At the end of the presentation, Dr. Cormac Coyle, Emerald’s medical director, said, “We’re in the prevention business, too. Without housing and health, you’re not in good shape.”

Dr. Coyle agreed to buy $10,000 worth of Cape Cod Caring Cards, for re-sale to his staff members. That will result in $500 raised for Project Prevention, which is enough to save someone from homelessness.

On the way back from a presentation at Cape Associates in Eastham, HAC CEO Rick Presbrey took the students to the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and showed them several of HAC’s affordable housing developments. The students also prepared dinner for and spent an evening with children and mothers staying at Carriage House, one of HAC’s family shelters.

This is the 9th year a team has come from the school as part of the Cornell Public Service Center’s Alternative Break Program.

“I wanted to do something more worthwhile than just sitting at home over spring break,” one student wrote in an evaluation form. “Although the overall process may have been tiring, the end product was really exciting,” wrote another.

This year’s group was team leader Abigail Bell (who is majoring in natural resources) of Nyack, N.Y.; Steven Bramwell (English) of Cleveland; Christine Chow (biological sciences) of San Jose, Calif.; Sagar Galani (hotel administration) of Mumbai, India; Huidong He (economics and math) of Beijing, China; and Derrick Yee (computer science) of Cupertino, Calif. The students were joined by driver Dino Tsipouroglou of Ithaca, N.Y., who hopes to replicate the Caring Cards program in Ithaca to help people at risk of homelessness in that city.

The Cornell students and the HAC staff would like to thank Steve Sozanski of DYECH and Kathy Sandell of BIC for their help with the project.  We’d also like to thank Emerald Physicians and Cape Associates for being part of our first phase of focus groups. 

Final Concept Logo tag line

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Cornell, Food Certs, Cape Cod Caring Cards