About

Our Mission

Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) is a grassroots student advocacy and community leadership training organization, located at Hunter College, City University of New York.  WRI organizes Hunter with firsthand experience firsthand experience of poverty to create and defend fair and just policies for all CUNY students.  WRI exemplifies a democratic and inclusive process in its work to create economic stability, empowerment and dignity for all families. We believe families receiving welfare should not have to choose between their survival and a chance to lift themselves and their children to higher ground through higher education.

Dillonna C. Lewis, Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) Co-Executive Director
Dillonna holds a Master’s in Education and Counseling Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the recipient of the Brawley Award, which funded a research project at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, West Indies to document the impact of racism, sexism and poverty on women in Caribbean society. She has served on the Board of Directors at Project Fair, and as a member of the New York Women’s Foundation Grants Advisory/Allocations Committee. As Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) Co-Executive Director, she shares responsibility for overall governance, funding, programming development and leadership. Dillonna supervises and trains staff, interns and undergraduate students to operate and evaluate WRI’s programs. She develops curriculum and instructs WRI’s (two-semester, credit-bearing) Community Leadership training program at Hunter College. In its 24th year, the Community Leadership program has trained over 600 students to serve as leaders in welfare public policy discourse, and as agents of real change in their communities. She plans, develops and implements projects in support of WRI’s mission and vision for social change.

Maureen Lane, WRI Co-Executive Director
Maureen was a pilot year participant in the Community Leadership Seminar of Welfare Rights Initiative in 1995.  Maureen was supported by public assistance when she entered Hunter College.  As a student in the Thomas Hunter Honors Program at Hunter, Maureen graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in June 2000. She earned her Masters of Social Work degree from Hunter College School of Social Work in December 2008. She shares the responsibility for mission, funding, reporting and overall governance of WRI. As a Human Rights Fellow, Maureen was the Asylum Project intern for Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 1995-1996. From 1996-2002, she chaired the Client Empowerment Committee for the Welfare Reform Network (WRN) of the Federation for Protestant Welfare Agencies. Maureen served proudly on the founding Board of QEJ (Queers for Economic Justice). She also serves on the Steering Committee of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign (ES2)  and the founding Advisory Boards of Make the Road by Walking and Solutions for Economic Justice, Empowerment and Dignity (SEED). Maureen coordinated WRI’s broad campaign to successfully pass New York State legislation, October 4, 2000, expanding access to education as a route out of poverty. In 2004, Maureen was selected as a fellow at the Drum Major Institute (DMI). Maureen has been instrumental in fostering sustainable relationships with policy makers, advocates, activists, academics, service providers, business and civic leaders to support WRIs mission.

Roxanna Henry, WRI Legal Advocacy Organizer
Roxanna Henry is a graduate of Welfare Rights Initiative’s Community Leadership Program. Roxanna started her educational journey when New York City Human Resources Administration told her that she would not be allowed to attend school. Since that time, Roxanna has attended LaGuardia Community College where she majored in Human Services. As a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Roxanna continued on to Hunter College where she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and earned her Masters of Social Work degree from Silberman School of Social Work,  Hunter College in January 2018.  Currently, Roxanna works as Legal Advocacy Organizer. She advises students from NYC’s five boroughs about their right to education and training. As a former welfare recipient, she knows firsthand the challenges facing many HRA clients struggling to achieve financial stability while pursuing higher education. She draws on her personal knowledge and experiences to develop self-help training materials, and as the lead trainer for WRI’s “Know Your Rights” workshops. She also works closely with second-year students at the CUNY School of Law’s Economic Justice Clinic to help resolve welfare case issues and co-facilitate trainings for community service providers, students, and legal advocates citywide. Roxanna’s experience and values inspires her to declare, “Education is a RIGHT, not a privilege. That’s WRI’s motto and the heart of my soul existence.”