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

Chatham Store Knits Blankets for HAC's Shelter Clients

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, May 04, 2017 @ 11:00 AM
Great Yarn-2.jpgA Great Yarn owner Mary Weishaar (from left), store employee Antonia DaSilva, knitter Jean Williams, WCVB cameraman Isaiah Bradwell, WCVB reporter Erika Tarantal, HAC CEO Alisa Galazzi, and knitter Barbara Gibson at last month's WCVB taping in Chatham. 

A handmade blanket symbolizes warmth, care and compassion. And this month, A Great Yarn delivered more than 150 such blankets to HAC that will provide just that to our families in shelter.

The donations were tied to a community knit-a-thon organized by the Chatham yarn shop and bookstore and its owners Ron and Mary Weishaar. This is now the second year the Weishaars have mobilized their customers who have knit individual panels that have been turned into blankets for those most in need in the community. Last year, the grassroots effort resulted in 29 blankets and $1,500 donated to HAC.

This year, the store far exceeded those numbers, partially the result of the story being publicized in the Cape Cod Times and the Cape Cod Chronicle. Last month, it found its way onto WCVB Channel 5’s “Five For Good” segment which highlighted what the project meant to the knitters. “It’s just a gift from the community to folks that need help,” Mary told WCVB reporter Erika Tarantal.

“I think this speaks to the good of human beings,” HAC CEO Alisa Galazzi said, during the taping in Chatham. “To think that the people were at home, by themselves, knitting and thinking of our clients is so heartwarming and impressive.”

This year’s effort began in February with roughly 400 knitters – some were experts, others were novices – participating. “I just love doing it because it’s for such a good cause, and it’s relaxing and fun,” said knitter Barbara Gibson of Chatham.

With Cape Cod experiencing the “perfect storm of high real estate prices and low wages,” Galazzi said, this type of gesture – putting one’s talents into making a necessary household item like a blanket – can have great meaning to the recipients who are struggling to move forward with their lives.

“We have people who come to us with nothing. They walk in with literally the clothes they are wearing. And then we have people, their car is full, and they’re homeless and living out of their car,” Galazzi said. “To have a special handmade blanket for these people, whether they have some stuff or have nothing, it’s just the idea of the community coming together, supporting them and helping them.” 

Tags: Family Shelter, donations, A Great Yarn, Alisa Galazzi, charitable giving, WCVB, knit-a-thon, Mary Weishaar, Ron Weishaar

Former Shelter Client Serves as Example to Others

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 @ 12:01 PM
Victoria-1.jpgVictoria Chase (right) with her advisor at Cape Cod Community College, Dr. Colleen Coughlin. Dr. Coughlin said that Chase has served as an inspiration to her. 

If you had visited Cape Cod Community College on the second Wednesday of last month, there would have been nothing discernible about Victoria Chase. She was not unlike any of her fellow students on campus, preparing for midterm exams in the two classes she is taking this semester, 3D Mechanical Design and Human Communications. Perhaps the only difference between Chase and her classmates was the smile that graced her face as she walked from her design class to her advisor Dr. Colleen Coughlin’s office.

There is a reason for that smile. A little over two years ago, Chase never could have imagined she would be where she is today, a proud mother of two children, balancing two part-time jobs as she works towards a degree in civil engineering. Somehow she also manages to lead two recovery groups on Cape Cod for those who are going through similar struggles that she did prior to arriving at Angel House in the summer of 2015.

“At my lowest, I was sleeping in my car with my kids,” Chase said, the result of an addiction to drugs.

By the time she entered Angel House, she had spent nine months without her children who were living with her mother and grandmother. Four days later, she was reconnected with them. “It was a tough transition for me,” Chase recalled. “I think I cried every day for a month and a half.”

Slowly, the pain subsided and Chase began the path towards healing. Over the course of the next 12 months, she was able to maintain her sobriety with the support of Angel House staff and the stability that the shelter provided her.

A New Direction for Chase
In April 2016, she landed a job at Home Depot in Hyannis, where she currently works as the lead cashier. Three months later, she graduated from Angel House, but remained on-site, living in one of two transitional apartments with her children. She is now living in an apartment in Hyannis, utilizing an MRVP housing voucher to pay a portion of her rent.

Having housing, Chase said, “is huge. It means I have a place to call home. It means stability… The number one thing you need to move forward is a roof over your head.”

Last fall, she enrolled at Cape Cod Community College, earning a 4.0 in her first semester. Her goal is to one day engineer and design buildings that fit within the landscape of cities and towns. Her story “is amazing,” said Dr. Coughlin. “It is so impressive to me the adversity she has been through and what she has overcome.”

Angel House shelter director Lin Rohr agreed. “The transformation from when she came to now, you wouldn’t recognize her,” Rohr said. “She has just taken off and blossomed in an incredible way. It gives them [current clients] a living example of hope. It’s like, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’”

It’s something Chase is immensely proud of and it’s why if you see her on campus at Cape Cod Community College, she’ll most likely have a smile on her face. “I always knew I was meant for something better. I never felt like my life should be spent living in a car,” she said. “Now I have an opportunity to do what I want to do… And I get to give my kids the life they deserve which is pretty awesome.”

Donate to Angel House

Tags: Family Shelter, homelessness, Angel House, homeless shelters, Victoria Chase

St. Peter's Pantry: Osterville Church Supports HAC's Shelter Clients

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 @ 07:45 AM
St Peters Edited-1-1.jpgMary Beebe (from left), Bob Bartholomay, Katherine Levinson and Gretchen Perry are a few of the parishioners from St. Peter's Episcopal Church who donate food to families in HAC's Scattered Site shelter program. 

On the last Friday of February, several boxes of non-perishables were delivered to HAC’s Scattered Site shelter in Hyannis. There were cans of beans, carrots and peas, an assortment of cereals, pastas and sauces as well as some bed sheets, pillowcases and wash cloths, all courtesy of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Osterville.

It may not seem like much, but to the 17 families who are the recipients of this generosity, it will make a world of difference. “It is a big help. A huge help,” said HAC case manager Geoffrey Gagnon.

“It means a lot because they always run out of food stamps each month,” added case manager Antoinette Bills.

About once a month, the church delivers the donations, filling the cupboards of a small kitchen adjacent to the offices where Gagnon, Bills and Katie Geissler, the director of HAC’s Scattered Site program, work. Their office is on the first floor of one of the shelter buildings in Hyannis, that houses 11 families.

Parishioners have been collecting and delivering the donations, which consist primarily of food, since the end of 2015. Because of their dedication, the kitchen has been given its own nickname: St. Peter’s Pantry.

A Desire to Do More

Several years prior to the monthly offerings, the church had put together Thanksgiving baskets for families staying at the shelter. Mary Beebe of Cotuit said she and her fellow parishioners realized they wanted to do more.

“I like this because it gives everybody a chance in the church to participate, no matter what their age is,” Beebe said. “And people seem to embrace it with enthusiasm so that is very nice too.”

Among those who have embraced the effort is Bob Bartholomay of Centerville, who has dropped off recent donations to the shelter. “I like the idea that we’re helping people,” Bob said. “I think it’s tough to live on the Cape. Property values are high and you know there is a lot of affluence, but sometimes we don’t see there are people in need.”

Both Gagnon and Bills said the donations help fill the gap for those in need who are struggling to get by, serving to augment their food stamps and the additional food they receive from area food pantries.

As an example, Gagnon said, one client receives only $60 a month in food stamps for him and his 3-year-old son. “He loves beans with his hot dogs so we’ll stash beans aside for him to supplement his dinner,” he said. “This tides them over and gets them through some tough times.”

While church parishioners have not met the recipients of their kindness, they are taking satisfaction in knowing they are helping others. “Even though it is pretty small, I think people are really kind of proud of the pantry,” said Beebe.

Help End Homelessness

Tags: Family Shelter, Philanthropy, donations, Scattered Sites, charitable giving, St. Peter's Pantry, St. Peter's Episcopal Church

Editorial: Optimism for our Future

Posted by Alisa Galazzi on Thu, Mar 09, 2017 @ 04:05 PM

Galazzi Photo-2.jpg

It has been a whirlwind—in the best way. I have spent the past two months getting to know the staff and dozens of programs at HAC. Each day, I have been amazed at the range of services that this agency accomplishes, the programs that lift people up and build community here on Cape Cod.

Rick Presbrey has built HAC into one of the largest and most comprehensive nonprofit social service agencies on Cape Cod. I am honored to have been chosen to take the reins of the agency and continue the good works that HAC is known for throughout the region.

HAC not only runs four family shelter programs—housing 174 families last year alone—but also runs the largest rental assistance program in the region, with over 1,100 households. Our homeless prevention program ensured 198 families did not become homeless last year. Our Energy and Repair department continues to help families save money by making homes more energy efficient. Our Housing Consumer Education classes and counseling supported everyone from seniors whose homes were at risk of foreclosure to young couples looking to purchase their first home.

I am looking forward to getting to know you, HAC’s supporters. Your support makes these programs possible and your input is important. As we assess HAC’s programs and their impact, I’d like to hear what you think.

There is a lot of work to be done and it is a challenge I welcome. Working with the HAC staff and with others throughout our community, I know we can make strides, together.

Tags: Family Shelter, Affordable Housing on Cape Cod, HAC, homeless prevention, Alisa Galazzi

Cape Family Goes From Homelessness to Housing

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Mar 02, 2017 @ 04:09 PM
HAC Richard Photo.jpgLast month, HAC's Al DiMuzio (right) donated a recliner to Richard as a way to provide stability to his living situation. 

On the first day of the new year, 57-year-old Richard and his two teenage boys became homeless. “That’s when I had to make the choice of living in our car or in a motel room,” he said. “It was so unbearable, especially with the children. It was very stressful.”

The slide into homelessness was relatively sudden for Richard, who had lived in Bourne for over 44 years. It started with the death of his 84-year-old mother Jean in October. He and his children had moved in with her several years ago and he was serving as her caretaker.

“It was devastating,” he said, noting it was particularly difficult for his children who had already lost their own mother. “When she [their grandmother] passed, they were very sad. Very sad. She had been like their mother in a way.”

His mother’s death was compounded by the fact that she had taken out a reverse mortgage on her house. Richard, who is on disability, was unable to pay back the loan so the bank seized the home.

“So we became homeless,” Richard said.

Nearly all of their belongings were gone. Richard was able to keep some family photos and personal keepsakes as well as his father’s military records and medals.

They even had to temporarily relinquish their boxer Bruno who had been a part of their family for nearly seven years, letting a friend take him in. Through the entire ordeal, Richard said, his children were most worried about their dog. “They have known him since they were little kids,” he said.

Initially, the family stayed a few nights in a motel before Richard quickly ran out of money. With the assistance of the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, they were placed in a shelter in Fall River. Though he was appreciative of having a safe place to sleep, Richard admitted that, “it wasn’t the same as living in our own house.”

Family Transitions Out of Shelter

In February, Richard was able to transition out of shelter and into a rental house in Bourne. He was connected to HAC and has been working with Housing Specialist AnnMarie Torrey who helped secure him $8,000 in HomeBASE funds through the state. Those funds are given to families in shelter or to families who are at imminent risk of homelessness as a way to stabilize their housing.

Roughly half of that has gone to pay his first and last month’s rent as well as the security deposit. The remainder will be used to pay a portion of his monthly rent as Richard’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will cover the rest. It leaves the family, Torrey said, in a tenuous financial position as he will have little additional money to spend on food and other necessities each month.

Thanks to HAC’s Welcome Home Gift Basket Program (see page 7), Torrey was able to provide him with basic household necessities such as bed sheets and kitchen appliances. HAC staff have done their part with Quality Control Inspector Jim Ames donating a used couch and Al DiMuzio, director of the agency’s Energy and Repair Department, a used recliner to help furnish the family’s home. “I have always found that helping is better than not, and sometimes synchronicity works in strange ways,” DiMuzio said. “So, for Richard, his need for a chair just happened to fit my desire to do a little downsizing.”

Torrey is working with him to find a part-time job that can increase his income to add even more security to his housing situation.

All of this has Richard feeling grateful for HAC’s support. “They have been indispensable,” he said. “If HAC didn’t help, I don’t know where we would be right now.”

Torrey is hopeful that Richard and his family will never have to experience the horrors of homelessness again. “Being in shelter really scared him and the boys,” she said. “He told me he is determined that he will never be in that position again and that is pretty much 90% of it – determination and having the will to succeed.”

Help End Homelessness

Tags: housing, AnnMarie Torrey, HomeBASE, Family Shelter, homelessness, shelter

New Role a Perfect Fit for Carriage House Director

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 @ 10:29 AM

Yvonne Rivers-1.jpg

Yvonne Rivers likes helping others.

That may explain why she is more than suited to her newest position at HAC as the facility director of Carriage House in North Falmouth. “I’ve always been a caretaker, even with my mom, she was young when she passed away at 49,” Rivers said. “I have taken care of people my whole life and I like taking care of people.”

At Carriage House, a homeless shelter for women and their children, Rivers is doing just that. The shelter, which primarily caters to first-time mothers, has the capacity to house 10 women at any given time.

A mother of three – Shiniqua, 33; Robin, 28; and April, 21 – Rivers understands what many of those at Carriage House are going through. Though she was never homeless, Rivers did rely on government assistance as she raised her first daughter. “I was a young mom, about 19 when I had my first,” Rivers said. “I know the struggle of being a young mother and juggling multiple jobs… I feel like this is a perfect opportunity to give back and to give something to these young girls and say, ‘You can do it. Don’t think you can’t.’”

It is that attitude that Rivers brought to HAC when she was initially hired by the agency roughly eight years ago. At the time, Rivers had spent over 11 years as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Royal Megansett Nursing Home in North Falmouth. “I was looking to go in a new direction,” she said.

So she began volunteering at HAC’s NOAH Shelter, where her father Joseph N’kunta had worked since 2001. There she heard of an opening at The Village at Cataumet where she first worked as substitute staff, then the overnight shift and, finally, as a case manager prior to her new position at Carriage House, which she started last May.

As the director, she is not only connecting mothers to housing services, but employment opportunities, financial literacy workshops, counseling and parenting classes so they can become self-sufficient when they eventually leave shelter. Rivers knows that achieving that goal is possible, something she learned as a young parent more than three decades ago. “I do feel like I have a lot to offer these young ladies,” she said. “I feel like I can give them some hope.”

Give Hope to a HAC Client

Tags: Family Shelter, homelessness, Carriage House, Joseph N'kunta, Yvonne Rivers

Toy Run Epitomizes Meaning of the Season

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 @ 11:24 AM
HOG Run 16-5.jpgMotorcycles make their way onto Old Main Road in North Falmouth, delivering toys to our Carriage House shelter. Over 150 motorcyclists participated in last month's toy run, ensuring our children in shelter will have gifts to open during the holidays. 

What compels people to give to complete strangers during the holidays? “So this guy doesn’t have to work so hard,” Cotuit’s David Andrade joked as Santa Claus walked by him on the first Sunday of November at HAC’s Carriage House shelter in North Falmouth.

It may have been a comment made in jest, but Andrade and over 150 motorcyclists with nothing to gain other than the satisfaction of helping others, did just that as part of the 17th Annual Chris Wetherbee Memorial Toy Run. They came from all over Cape Cod as well as the South Shore, Boston and even Rhode Island to deliver over $3,000 worth of toys that will go to children living in HAC’s shelters as well as $2,600 in monetary donations to support HAC’s housing work on Cape Cod and the islands.

The toy run has actually been taking place for the past 27 years. In 1999, it was named in honor of longtime organizer Christina Wetherbee, who died of cancer the following spring. Since then, her husband, Joe Wetherbee, and his second wife, Clarissa, have organized the run with the help of the Cape Cod Harley Owners Group (HOG).

“It’s all for the children,” Joe said, a statement echoed by several of the ride’s participants. “It is not their fault they are in shelter and a lot of times it is not the parents fault.”

HAC CEO Rick Presbrey expressed his appreciation for those who participated in the toy run as it will help HAC’s three family shelters and bring a little joy to the nearly 50 families staying there over the holidays. “It’s really the beginning of the holiday season for us,” he said. “It gets the spirit going early, and that’s a good thing.”

HOG Run 16-12.jpg

To view more pictures from last month's toy run, visit our Facebook page here. And to give to our families in shelter, click here

Tags: Family Shelter, Philanthropy, Carriage House, Chris Wetherbee Memorial Toy Run, charitable giving, holiday giving

New Playground at Cataumet a Favorite with Kids

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 @ 01:00 PM
Cataumet Playground-2.jpgBoth HAC staff and The Village at Cataumet staff and clients were joined by representatives from Cape Cod Senior Residences during a dedication for the shelter's new playground last month. 

What do you get when you combine two swings, a climbing cargo net, a slide and a faux rock wall? A whole lot of fun.

That is exactly what kids at The Village at Cataumet have been having since a new playground arrived at the shelter in September. The set was paid for thanks to a donation from Cape Cod Senior Residences, an independent and assisted living community in Pocasset, following a casino night in June which raised more than $1,600 for the HAC shelter. Residents at the assisted living facility decided they wanted to use that money towards filling a need at The Village at Cataumet.

“They [the kids] love it,” said shelter director Paula Mallard, during a playground dedication in the beginning of October. “It is awesome. It’s really sturdy and going to last us a long time.”

Cataumet Playground-9.jpgChildren enjoying the new playground at The Village at Cataumet. 

Mallard said that it’s been a few years since the shelter had a usable playground. The last one was made of wood and had to be removed because it became unsafe for children.

As a small contingent of children swung, slid and climbed the playground, Michael LeBrun, executive director for Cape Cod Senior Residences, spoke about why this was an important gift for his organization. “I think it is great to be able to help the kids and be a part of the community,” he said.

Support The Village at Cataumet

Tags: Family Shelter, homelessness, The Village at Cataumet, Paula Mallard, Cape Cod Senior Residences, Philanthropy, donations

From Intern to Case Manager

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 @ 10:16 AM

JMunson-2.jpg

Starting over can be difficult, something HAC’s Julie Munson knows all too well. In recent years, she experienced that when she said farewell to a 25-year career in the military to pursue an entirely new path in social services.

That may be why she is so well suited to her new position as a case manager at The Village at Cataumet which allows her to assist HAC clients in a similar situation. At that HAC shelter, clients are trying to rebuild their lives, starting anew, as they look to find employment, permanent housing and stability. “I help clients get back on their feet,” Munson said. “I teach them how to become independent.”

Sometimes progress is slow which Munson herself dealt with when she first started working at HAC in May 2012, as an intern at The Village at Cataumet at the age of 41.

Prior to that, she had spent her entire adult life serving in the Air Force. She was most recently stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base where she attained the rank of Senior Master Sergeant and was employed as a personnel readiness manager. While in the military, Munson said she enjoyed “helping people. In my last position I did deployments so I briefed family members of people going to Afghanistan and Iran and I prepared them for what might happen.”

It is not unlike her current position in which she is working with shelter clients. “Here, I am doing the same thing: I’m giving people the resources they need to succeed,” she said.

Munson balanced her internship at The Village at Cataumet with courses at Cape Cod Community College where she eventually obtained an associate’s degree in human services.

As an intern, Munson served as the shelter’s activities director, bringing children who live at the shelter to the park, playground, museums, the library and even mini-golfing. At the end of her internship, she was able to continue at HAC, working per diem at not only Cataumet, but Carriage House and NOAH.

Paula Mallard, facility director at Cataumet, said that Munson “has a lot of compassion for the clients,” calling her an asset to the shelter.

In May, Munson’s relationship with HAC grew when she was promoted to case manager, filling the vacancy left when Yvonne Rivers was named the facility director at Carriage House. Just a few days later, Munson was receiving her bachelor’s degree in social work from Bridgewater State College. “It was overwhelming,” she said. “All in one week my life changed and it was all positive.”

Her story serves as an example to shelter clients that progress does not always happen overnight. It takes time and requires hard work and patience, along with the support of staff like Munson whose recent experiences have given her an understanding of how to handle significant transitions in life.

Tags: Family Shelter, homelessness, Village at Cataumet, Julie Munson