Congratulations To Cohort 20 Graduates!

Congratulations to cohort 20 graduates, and all alumni who joined our festive 20th anniversary gala and leadership awards ceremony. A special thank you to the Senior Vice Chancellor of CUNY, Jay Hershenson, for his words of inspiration to our students. We are so proud to have the best students at Hunter College who move on to make big waves in their chosen professional pathsGroup PictureThank you everyone for making last evening’s event a night to remember!

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20th Anniversary Gala News Alert

May has certainly been an exciting time for Welfare Rights Initiative!  Hunter College students from the 20th cohort of our Community Leadership Program are busy finishing up their advocacy activities and academic work as we approach graduation. Last week, our outstanding alum, Shawnta Alston in her signature hat, was a featured speaker at the New York Women’s Foundation’s annual breakfast (see photo below).  Shawnta is a wonderful example of our gifted alumni. shawnta  


We were so proud to be in the room as Shawnta stood before an audience of 3,000 inspirational women and shared her story.





We look forward to closing out this amazing month by celebrating the joy and accomplishment of WRI’s past two decades. We hope you will join us for the 20th Anniversary Benefit Gala on Thursday, May 28th 6:30pm.

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WRI Vision and Planning Retreat Launches Program into its 20th Year!

2014 RetreatWelfare Rights Initiative (WRI) brought together staff, students, and alumni for 3 days, November 14-16, for a planning retreat. This weekend of community building and strategizing enabled WRI members to reconnect to their organizational vision and each other. Retreat attendees began the development of an outreach and educational campaign that will ensure all New Yorkers in need fully understand the implications and opportunities of recent policy changes.

Last spring New York State enacted a law that allows 4-year college to count as core activity for people receiving welfare.  The subsequent changes in New York City’s welfare policy are exciting and will help stabilize New York City families who are experiencing financial crisis.

WRI recognizes that improving access to education and training is a priority because it provides a sure route out of poverty.  The organization is committed to building stronger relationships with the NYC Human Resources Administration by sharing its unique approach to leadership development. Through this work, WRI hopes to expedite implementation of the new law by focusing on collaborative partnerships with city leaders, advocates, and other organizations dedicated to finding humane and effective solutions to longstanding education and welfare policy issues.

Here are a few reflections from participants at this important gathering:

Mary Hughes, Cohort 17 – “It was a weekend of inspiring conversation on the future of WRI and how we as alumni can stay connected and work together to further WRI’s message and hopes beyond our immediate community.  We also established an Alumni Professional Network as a way for all of us to connect professionally and also to keep each other updated on personal developments and life changes.” 

Pat Ramirez, Cohort 18 – “FIRED UP! ENLIGHTENED! EXCITED! I am so thankful this weekend happened. As we plan WRI’s 20th ANNIVERSARY GALA to celebrate its LONGEVITY in student activism and to strategize 4-year college law implementation in NYC and NYS, I ask, WHAT is the purpose of KEEPING counterproductive laws on the books?  These past three days REAFFIRMED TO ME that we all can contribute to eradicate the miss-education about one another, sometimes charged with harmful stereotypes about entire populations that in turn, at the end of the day, deplete the soul.  Without community we are nothing.” 

Guided by community support and the bold visions of our student leaders, WRI is restoring hope and expanding options for at-risk families across New York City. WRI believes that everyone has the right to be considered “college material” regardless of their socioeconomic status, and these new policies will help make that truth a reality.

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WRI 2013 Newsletter

Read Hirah’s Story

Download WRI’s 2013 Newsletter (PDF)

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Join WRI & NY Women’s Foundation on Tuesday, November 12th at 2pm.

WRI will be sharing policy recommendations to help advance the economic status of women, and their families. Tune in at 2pm on Tuesday, November 12th to learn how you can be a part of our education movement. A new administration in NYC has great potential to ignite new possibilities.

-Dillonna Lewis

Talking Transition | Advancing Economic Justice for Women and Families in New York City

New Yorkers now have a new mayor, so we are all coming to the table, engaging our communities and Talking Transition. Talking Transition is an open conversation about the future of New York City. The conversation will spread across the city – from an open tent filled with events on Canal Street opening this Saturday, to mobile “tents” that will be setup in public spaces throughout the boroughs, to online forums on

For 26 years, NYWF has looked to its grantee partners for the most innovative solutions to the complex problems in their communities. With the knowledge and expertise of our grantee partners, we will convene a panel and seek to influence the new administration on policies that consider the unique challenges of women across New York City.

Please join us on Tuesday, November 12 from 2-3:30pm. RSVP:

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The New York Women’s Foundation will host a moderated panel with our grantee partners discussing
Advancing Economic Justice for Women and Families in NYC

The panel will be moderated by Rossana Rosado, Publisher of El Diario – La Prensa and includes:

A Better Balance Co-President Sherry Leiwant
FIERCE Co-Director Krystal Portalatin
Grand Street Settlement Executive Director Margarita Rosa
Violence Intervention Program Executive Director Cecilia Gaston
New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Mary Haviland
Center for Family Life in Sunset Park Co-Director Julia Jean-Francois
Community Health Action of Staten Island Executive Director Diane Arneth
The New York City Anti-Violence Project Executive Directio Sharon Stapel
Sakhi for South Asian Women Executive Director Tiloma Jayasinghe
Welfare Rights Initiative Co-Executive Director Dillonna Lewis

For more information on Talking Transition, click here.

For Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s Transition page, click here.

Read more about Talking Transition in this New York Times article.

Join conversation on Twitter: @TalkNYC2013 @NYWomensFdn #TalkingTransition or leave a comment below!

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WRI’s 2013 Creative Expression Potluck Event

On Monday the November 4th, WRI had an awe-inspiring Creative Expression Potluck.

It was a wonderful night of poetry, song, and other forms of creative expressions at Hunter College. Our alumni base is the heart and soul of the energy that fuels our education movement. Thanks to all who brought love, joy, and possibilities into the room–the yummy food was also greatly appreciated!
Roxanna Henry, Hirah Mir, Jennifer Lee, Shawntay Austin, Dillonna Lewis, Mary Hughes, Wankairys Decena Reyes, Maureen Lane, Jack Skelton  and 3 others at Hunter College.

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The New York City Council – Video

The New York City Council – Video.

Dear Friends,

We hope you are enjoying a good fall and we write to share some policy news.

WRI testified Wednesday September 25, 2013 before the NYC Council Committee for Community Development. The Neighborhood Stress Project at Hunter College Co- Directors Mimi Abramovitz, , Silberman School of Social Work  at Hunter College, CUNY and Jochen Albrecht,  Department of Geography, Hunter College, CUNY led the non-governmental testimony with their research identifying the city districts with concentrated poverty.

The Committee heard testimony on Intro 1148 (see attached) a local law to amend the New York city charter and the administrative code of the city of New York by designating high needs areas within New York City as Community Development Zones.  Intro 1148 represents a comprehensive response to entrenched problem of poverty in our city.  The council hearing was invigorating and the experience was hopeful.  Attached is WRI’s testimony.

Intro 1148 proposes a governance board for the Community Development Zones.  WRI’s testimony urges the Committee to consider greatly expanding the participation of people with firsthand experience of poverty and welfare on the governance board.  In addition, we suggested that a dialogue process can be used to engage a wide variety of stakeholders in the planning and implementing of the zones.

At WRI, we know getting an education is the surest route out of poverty. This is why we, our students and alumni are civically involved.  We believe that our experiences and those of others receiving welfare and living below the poverty line can reveal innovative approaches to policy-making that can change systems and lives for the better.  We are encouraged by the committee response to our testimony and will proceed with planning a policy symposium in spring of 2014 at Hunter College.

We will keep everyone abreast of opportunities to be involved in planning and participating in the event.

If you have any question or suggestions please contact Maureen at:

Warmest regards,

Mo, Dee and Roxy

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WRI’s Leadership Training Program – Applications are now being accepted.

Community Leadership Training Program (Fall 2013-Spring 2014)
*Students with past or current public assistance experience are encouraged to apply*

Applications are being accepted for the Fall 2013 to Spring 2014 Community Leadership Program.  This two semester program explores past and current issues in welfare policy and includes workshops in meeting planning and facilitation, public speaking and community organizing.  The program enhances students’ abilities to participate effectively in public settings and leadership roles.
Classes will be held on Wednesdays from 10:10-1pm.

For more information about the application and registration process, pick up an application at Thomas Hunter Room 207 or call
Dillonna C. Lewis, 212-650-3569/

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Take Action

1) Like Us on Facebook
2) Tweet#S1419
3) Share our Articles and Videos

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NYC Bar Association Panel Discussion: Welfare’s Future in NYC; WRI’s Co-Director, Maureen Lane will be a part of the panel discussion.

Dear Friends,

The NYS legislative session ended without passing bill S1419.  The bill is essential to maximize access to higher education and vocational training programs under federal rules for families and individuals receiving welfare in NYS.  The law will help thousands of students at CUNY and all over the state to stay in school and move from welfare to economic security.

Thank you to WRI students, alums, donors, partners and friends for your collective efforts to rally elected officials.  The bill requires more awareness and greater prioritization on the Senate leadership’s docket and we will continue to fight for the appropriate attention and support this piece of legislation deserves.

Studies show time and again that pushing families into the first low-wage job available ends up in long-term cycling on and off of welfare, whereas, allowing people to earn degrees places them in employment that results in moving from welfare permanently.

We will enlist your support once again this fall as we continue to advocate for college students struggling to stay on track with their studies.

Voting in next election (2014) can have a priorities impact in NYS, NYC and on the U.S. Congressional level.  We urge you to vote.

At WRI, we know getting an education is the surest route out of poverty. This is why we are participating in a special panel discussion about the future of welfare policy under the next administration, hosted by the NYC Bar Association on Tuesday, July 2, 2013 6-7:30pm. At this forum, we have the opportunity to inspire and engage mayoral hopefuls and other city leaders to remove the barriers that too often hold people back from achieving financial independence.  The event is free and open to the public.  Come and add your voice to the process.

If you have any question please contact Maureen at:

Warmest regards,

Mo, Dee and Roxy

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