Home Sweet Homeless: A look at housing and food insecurity at NECC

 In IE Blog

Housing and food insecurity often get extra attention around the holiday season, but for Janel D’Agata Lynch, it’s a year-round dedication. Janel is the Senior Special Programs Coordinator for Civic Engagement, Service-Learning, and Community Resources at Northern Essex Community College (NECC). A large part of Janel’s role is helping NECC students with a wide variety of social services, such as housing insecurity, food needs, and childcare issues; a job that requires a big heart and a lot of hope, both of which Janel undoubtedly has. 


At the start of each semester, we launch an intake survey in Navigate to gather information about our students for informed outreach and decision making. One of the questions we ask is “in the past 30 days, have you been worried about buying food or paying for housing?” This semester, 27% of respondents said yes (and let’s be honest, the rates are probably higher). When asked about what comes to mind when looking at this statistic, Janel replied “it’s disturbing how much people are dealing with and trying to get an education at the same time…the students I see are the same students we all see every day. These are students that don’t have basic needs and we would never know if they didn’t tell us.” Why is this happening? Janel noted: 

  • The cost of safe housing in the Merrimack Valley is through the roof.  Half of NECC students reside in either Haverhill or Lawrence, MA (NECCi, 2022). According to the Zumper Boston Metro Area Report released in May 2022, the median rent for a one-bedroom in Haverhill, MA is $1,640/month, up 21% since last year. Even more staggering is the median rent for a one-bedroom in Lawrence, MA, which has historically been more affordable but is now $1,630/month. 
  • This creates a slippery slope, making it difficult to pay other bills, such as groceries, utilities and insurance. 
  • Some students simply aren’t aware of the resources they are eligible for. 

Navigate Perks:

Asking this question on the Intake Survey allows Janel to see which students she should reach out to in hopes that they will schedule an appointment in Navigate with her. In preparation for her appointments, Janel looks at a student’s account in Navigate to get an overview of their time at NECC. A few of the things that staff and faculty can easily see on student’s accounts are:  

  • Major  
  • GPA  
  • Past and current classes  
  • Visits to other support centers with summary notes  
  • Goals and interests (supplied by the student)

A Break in the Clouds 

Speaking of resources, these are some of the ways that Janel helps NECC students: 

  • NECC has a Food Pantry on campus, where students can access items like beans, canned chicken, and personal hygiene products. 
  • It’s important for students to not only have enough food, but to have healthy food. Once a month, she holds a Mobile Market that is free for all students, faculty, and staff. Community members can pick up foods like fruits, vegetables, and rice. 
  • Janel guides students through the application process for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), where if eligible, they can receive money every month for food. 
  • NECC also offers clothing assistance referrals for current students and household members.
  • She can also refer students to resources in the community that can help with a myriad of social services

We’re stronger together 

Janel is grateful for the relationships she has created and maintained with community partners, such as The Greater Boston Food Bank, Debbie’s Treasure Chest, Ruth’s House, Merrimack Valley Food Bank, and the YMCA. Tracy Fuller, the Regional Executive Director at the YMCA of the North Shore, is no stranger to NECC and the challenges our students face. Her partnership with NECC has taken on many different forms, from educating in the classroom, job fairs, and free childcare for NECC students.  In order to continue providing accessible services that are both affordable and high quality, Tracy explained that “it’s important to understand the resources that already exist so that we’re not duplicating efforts and so that we can maximize the dollars.” Tracy is very proud of the work her team does and how they’re always evolving to respond to the needs of the community. She beamed as she told me, “there are a lot of jobs out there but at the YMCA, you are changing lives. It’s not just that we wish we could be doing good work, we ARE doing good work.” 

Janel shares Tracy’s enthusiasm for her work and expressed that despite the hardships, she loves working with students and seeing them go out to make the world a better place. “I’m continually amazed when I meet with a student who’s struggling so much and they still show up, ask for help, and do the best they can.” 

Figure 1: Janel D’Agata Lynch at the NECC Mobile Market 
Figure 2: Tracy Fuller cutting the ribbon at the formal opening of the Early Learning Center at NECC 


Chen, C. (2022, May 3). Boston Metro Report. Zumper. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://www.zumper.com/blog/boston-metro-report/ NECCi.

(2022). NECCi. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://necci.necc.mass.edu/data-center/enrollment/

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