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 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