Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) is a grassroots student activist and community leadership training organization, located at Hunter College, City University of New York. WRI trains and supports students who have firsthand experience of poverty to effectively promote access to education for all. WRI exemplifies a democratic and inclusive process in its work to create systemic changes that lead to economic stability, empowerment and dignity for all families.
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 15th year, the Community Leadership program has trained over 300 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.
Hirah Mir, WRI Youth Leadership Project Organizer
Hirah is a senior majoring in Psychology at Hunter College. She is an Thomas Hunter Honor’s student, a Community Fellow for the 2011 Pearson Prize, and a graduate of the National Science Foundation Research Experience Program through which she conducted research on racial and language bias in standardized testing. As a student of WRI, Hirah has learned to strengthen her voice in order to enact change at all levels of government and also in her personal life. When she was denied access to higher education due to her status as a student recipient of public assistance, WRI helped her to develop the confidence she needed to advocate for herself and for others. “In 2009, I began working with the Youth Leadership Project, reaching out to students who are or will be in the same position that I was in when I began college. WRI has allowed me to grow as an individual and develop into a leader throughout my learning journey at Hunter.” This summer, Hirah co-facilitated leadership classes at a middle school, helping students enhance their academic and leadership skills. Hirah aspires to pursue a PhD in Educational Psychology so that she can tackle issues that have a negative impact on a individual’s behavior, cognition, and development in an educational environment. By continuing her work with the Youth Leadership Project and by obtaining a PhD in Educational Psychology, Hirah wishes to ensure individual success and achievement and create equal opportunities in education for all students.
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.
Jennifer Lee, WRI Campus Organizer
Jennifer is a junior at Hunter College and double majoring in Political Science and Political Philosophy. She is also pursuing a certificate in Public Policy at the Roosevelt House. Jennifer is a graduate of Prep for Prep (contingent XXV), a prestigious academic program that seeks to enroll economically disadvantaged students into independent schools. She has been actively organizing for various non-profit organizations since the summer of 2009, after graduating from the Calhoun School with a diploma and awards in the Visual Arts. Jennifer joined WRI after a flier about the Community Leadership class piqued her interest, and has been with WRI ever since. “The class and internship experience at WRI has turned me into a leader”, Jennifer explained, when asked why she decided to organize for WRI. “I found my voice here, and I want to use it to spread a message. That education is a right, regardless of one’s social or economic class. It is truly the great equalizer, as I have found out from my own experience. So long as students like me are barred from higher education, an education they need to attain financial stability and a life of human dignity, I will work with WRI”. Jennifer can been seen around campus, either in class, rushing to meetings, tabling, or generally making a ruckus about economic justice and human rights.
Roxanna Henry, WRI Legal Advocacy Organizer
Roxanna Henry is a part-time undergraduate student at Hunter College and 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. Roxanna is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and continues at Hunter College where she is on her last semester of completing her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Currently, Roxanna works as Legal Advocacy Organizer. She advises students from NYC’s five boroughs about their right to education and training. “My dream is to go on to law school and become the legal arm of WRI.” 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.”