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Team HUG

A project of this magnitude doesn’t come to fruition without the help of dedicated individuals.

We’d like express our gratitude to a few outstanding, individuals. These kind and generous individuals have enthusiastically lent their valuable time and talent to the mission of solving the student debt crisis through HUG Your Student Debt, Inc.

Cheri Gancarz, Executive Assistant

Cheri began working with Dr. Rahaim in February, 2016 when her two boys Brady and Jack were just 6 and 8 years old. She came to us after learning how our program worked during a bank presentation. With more than 20 years in banking Cheri brings valuable skills and experience to the table. Her attention to detail is remarkable and most importantly, her heart is in the right place. Cheri’s skills in customer service are amazing! She truly cares about the client, sharing in their delights and successes and going the extra mile to help if someone is struggling. Her family life with her boys and husband John in rural Massachusetts is ultra-important to her (bravo!) She is truly a treasure and a rare individual and we are very pleased to have her on our team!


Lana Harper, Independent Consultant

Serendipity. That’s been a common thread of how many team members have come to join our HUG family. Lana is a prime example.  She caught the HUG bug and became passionate (or some might say pleasantly obsessed J) about helping us find possible solutions to the education debt crisis.

As my sister, I’ve always known her to be a supportive and caring individual, lending her time and efforts selflessly to worthwhile causes, often involving animals.  Although Lana has no student loan experience directly, she’s spent a great deal of time researching and finding solutions to difficult problems in a variety of areas ranging from real estate to social and legal issues.

Soon after deciding to create HUG Your Student Debt, Inc. it became apparent to me that the research required was vast and time consuming.  One day, in casual conversation Lana who was convalescing from pneumonia, mentioned she was seeking something to occupy her mind.  I asked if she would be interested in reading a couple of student debt articles and offer her opinion.  Honestly, I didn’t expect them to resonate with her since I knew she had no personal experience with student loans, but I soon discovered she’d hit her stride.  She devoured the information and began sending articles, legal documents and political pieces surrounding the topic.  Each submission was followed by more discussion and her enthusiasm for the project grew.

She was a natural. When I asked if she would be interested in helping us build the HUG Resource Library she quickly agreed.  Thanks in part to Lana’s efforts we are able to offer a convenient and safe place where third-party articles are organized so readers can do their own research and make informed decisions about managing the costs of higher education.

Our goal is to screen content for accurate and objective information, omitting scams and sales pitchy pieces to provide you with convenient access to unbiased articles.

Rarely does a day pass when Lana does not submit relevant articles for review. We greatly appreciate Lana’s contribution and we think you will too when you visit our HUG Resource Library.


Travis Johnston, Web Developer

Travis joined the HUG Team back in 2017 to help bring our interactive, web and software experience to fruition. He came highly recommended due to his skills in coding and web design, experience in academic institutions IT work and attention to detail.

As we worked together and our solution and goals for the future became more apparent Travis’ enthusiasm took hold. A well organized, get-it-done individual, Travis is always optimistic and a pleasure to work with. While he remains the owner and developer of Creo Coding, a web design and development company located in Shelburne Falls, MA, we are honored to have adopted him as part of our HUG Team family!


Charlotte Rahaim 2/9/1934 - 5/14/2019

Well travelled and virtually unstoppable, Charlotte made friends wherever she went.  Portugal, Lebanon, or Florida? No matter.  It was locally however, at University of Massachusetts, Amherst where perhaps she made the most indelible impression. In 1971 when few women were availed of such opportunity, Charlotte was in the Ph.D. program at UMass. Cousin Charlotte, whom I knew until I was well grown as "Aunt Charlotte," lived locally and visited often much to our delight. I remember being completely mesmerized by her stories of travel, of life at UMass, of writing and experiencing, and her views of the future and... of possibilities.  

A modest, kind and generous woman, Charlotte was never boastful. It was always  about others. What were their talents, dreams, opportunities? She had a genuine interest in people and in helping others succeed in bettering themselves and the lives of those around them.  At the forefront always? EDUCATION!  

By 1974 Charlotte had decided on her doctoral dissertation topic. She was passionate about making education affordable and primarily available to everyone. Although it is commonplace today, in the early 70s transferring credits from community college to university was a brand new idea. Charlotte embraced it with her trademark moxie! She conducted a study of transfer students at four year colleges.  The data brought to light many socio-economic issues and obstacles to education. Charlotte was one of a few forward-thinking pioneers who helped bring the idea of UWW (University Without Walls) at UMass to fruition.  As assistant to the Chancellor at that time, Charlotte organized one-on-one meetings with community college presidents to make the necessary adjustments to prepare and allow students to transfer credits to UWW. For those who might otherwise be unable to attend university directly, due to high school grades, monetary concerns or lifestyle, this program provides an opportunity to earn their first bachelor's degree. A quick search on the web for Charlotte Rahaim UMass will unearth a litany of Ph.D. students' dissertations (thanks to UMass for digitization) mentioning Charlotte as a mentor and thanking her for helping them to further their education.

Perhaps the word inspired is thrown about too lightly, but I can honestly say that Charlotte, always leading by example, inspired me not only to further my education but to help others in any way possible.  We had many long conversations about the HUG Your Student Debt project and Charlotte was in the loop as a team member all the way. No surprise that she wanted to volunteer her time, knowledge and expertise.  

She leaves us all too soon - even at 85. I know she was very proud of the progress we're making in education debt management, and remains a mentor to me daily and an example to us all.  

Thank you Charlotte for all you've given us. We hope to live up to your shining example of helping current and future generations gain access to the education we all so richly deserve and which benefits us all.

Radio segment about Charlotte Rahaim and UWW


Patricia A. Friedman, Branch Bank Manager

Patricia Friedman is a highly respected leader in local banking with an extensive experience and expertise in meeting clients’ diverse banking needs.

With more than three decades in banking Pat is highly respected and sought after. Currently, Branch Manager at People’s United Bank, Amherst, MA. From 2014 Pat was the Senior Branch Manager at UMASS Five College Federal Credit Union in Hadley, MA, and prior, she was a Branch Manager at Bank of America for 24 years.

Patricia is known for her community involvement and for going the extra mile for her customers.  She has won many awards including the Award of Excellence,” Bank of America 2005 and 2006, the Medallion Award” Bank of America 1993, 1998-2002.  She is actively involved in community theater, Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity and has won the prestigious U.S. “Excellence in Community Service” award winner, Presidents George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, 2008 – 2013.

Genuine caring and customer service skills are her trademark and have resulted in extremely loyal, long-term banking customers. But it was her  forward thinking approach to solving her customers’ issues with education and other debt that led her to work with us..

You might think it odd that a banker would be supportive of a company that  helps pay off loans ahead of schedule, but Patricia understood the benefits to her clientele immediately.  (Good credit, low debt-to-income ratios, timely payments and proper future goal planning are all appealing to a lender.) 

Both Patricia, a graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams, Massachusetts, and her husband Ed Friedman, a Certified Public Accountant, were quick to offer assistance when we announced we were launching the HUG project.  They have been extremely supportive and generous with their time and knowledge.  And, with their son Jonathan in college at the time of this writing  they offer first hand knowledge of the funding process and a parent’s perspective. 


Thomas A. Warger, Independent Consultant

Dr. Thomas A. Warger has held a variety of leadership roles in IT management in higher education in more than 30 years in the field. Since 2000 he has been an independent consultant. He was CIO at Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania) for 9 years and IT projects coordinator at Five Colleges, Inc. (Massachusetts) for 5 years. He has served as interim CIO at five different colleges, with two of those posts including library interim directorship. He has also consulted at numerous colleges and universities and has written numerous professional articles for the Edutech Report, Educause Review, and University Business Officer. Tom’s experience includes: IT strategic plans and accreditation self-studies, ERP selection and implementation, IT staff/services development and re-organization, audio-video services, instructional technology development, budgeting, project management, grant writing, regulatory compliance projects, IT governance committees, web and public relations development, learning management system selection and implementation, and construction and renovation projects for IT and instructional facilities. Tom has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Small Computer Users in Education, the Northeast Regional Computing Program, the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges, and the AIMS Group, Inc. He has served on editorial and conference committees at Educause and is a frequent presenter at regional IT conferences and events. Tom began his career as a faculty member. He has a PhD in French Studies from Brown University and taught at Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) and Union (Schenectady, NY) Colleges before turning to work in academic administration and IT management.

















"There is scarcely anything that drags a person down like debt."
– P. T. Barnum
The road to success is always under construction
– Lily Tomlin
"Bankruptcy laws allow companies to smoothly reorganize, but not college graduates burdened by student loans."
– Robert Reich
“What I would like to do... once I take care of all my kids' student loans, is buy a red 1965 Mustang and fully restore it.”
– Mike Quigley
"If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going."
– Irwin "Professor" Corey
“This would be a much better world if more married couples were as deeply in love as they are in debt.”
– Earl Wilson
"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."
– Marie Curie