“What happens here changes lives forever” is the motto of Happiness House in Geneva, N.Y. This summer, Karah Charette’ 14 is a part of that mission.
Charette is interning at Happiness House as part of an AmeriCorps summer service program. “I have had a really great experience so far; I am learning so much and connecting to the community in a very meaningful way,” she says.
Happiness House offers programs and services for children and adults with disabilities and their families in Ontario, Seneca, Yates, and Wayne counties. According to their website, Happiness House was founded in the late 1960s when a young Geneva girl was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Due to volunteer efforts and money raised by various Geneva groups, Happiness House was able to open its first childcare center – initially serving five children with developmental disabilities.
Today, Happiness House has three center-based programs – in Geneva, Canandaigua and Waterloo – providing educational, recreational and family support to more than 1,100 children and adults with and without disabilities. It is the chief resource for children and adults with disabilities in the Finger Lakes.
“The people I’m working with are all so caring and committed to what they do. I already feel as if I’m a part of the whole mission of Happiness House,” she says. During her internship, Charette has been working with children and adults in the Geneva and Canandaigua centers.
“We truly appreciate the enthusiasm and willingness of Hobart and William Smith students to share their time and talents with Happiness House children and adults through educational internships. Students make a big difference here; it is a win-win for all,” says Mary Boatfield, director of Happiness House.
Charette is pursuing a double major in biology and dance; she intends to work in the medical field. “I think my experience at Happiness House has shown me the importance of putting everything into perspective and the fact that people cannot always be categorized in terms of their injury because the brain is so complex. The way one person reacts and recovers may be very different from another. It has reinforced to me the importance of treating each patient as an individual,” she reflects.
Charette has combined her love of dance and science outside the classroom as well. She will serve as the president of the Koshare Dance Collective this year and will participate as a member of the board of the Human Rights Collective, a member of the Laurel Society and Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig’s Learn to Lead group, along with being a member of the Health Professions Club.
“I was looking for a lot of different things in a college and HWS met all of them. In addition to the beauty and the unique liberal arts education, I got a sense that this was a place dedicated to making connections. I have been able to chart my own path here and the fact that the Colleges offer so many opportunities for students is amazing,” Charette notes.
Mary Herlihy Gearan, wife of Colleges’ President Mark D. Gearan, has served on the Happiness House Board of Directors for the past 10 years and as the vice chair of the Board of Directors for five of those years. “The impact Happiness House has on so many lives is inspiring,” she says. “Not only do our students who volunteer at Happiness House make a difference, but Happiness House changes their lives as well.”
Charette agrees. “I feel very fortunate to be making these connections to the community and to these wonderful people.”
In the photo above, Charette talks with students during a trip to Seneca Lake State Park.