URI Health Sciences graduate wins 2020 Dorothy Shackleton Anti-Hunger Leadership Award

Warwick native Kayla Wedell graduated in May with degree in Human Development and Family Studies, continues homeless outreach

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Kayla Wedell
Kayla Wedell

KINGSTON, R.I. — June 17, 2020 — The University of Rhode Island Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America has presented the Dorothy Shackleton Anti-Hunger Leadership Award to Kayla Wedell, a 2020 URI graduate with a major in Human Development and Family Studies, who has become a leading advocate for the homeless population.

A Warwick native, Wedell is an experienced outreach worker with a demonstrated history of working with low-income and homeless populations to connect them with government assistance programs and other services.

“I am so incredibly honored and deeply humbled to have been chosen for The Dorothy Shackleton Anti-Hunger Leadership Award,” Wedell said. “As an outreach worker, I was fortunate enough to go out into the community and converse with people from all walks of life. When doing outreach at places like food pantries, meal sites and homeless shelters, I was able to see the needs of the community firsthand.”

Spending her senior year internship with the Feinstein Hunger Center, Wedell studied the obstacles individuals experiencing homelessness may face when applying for and trying to maintain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from the state government. She met with community leaders from organizations such as House of Hope, the WARM Shelter, and the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services. She also learned directly from people experiencing homelessness at places like Amos House, Crossroads and McAuley House.

“I was able to develop a training module for future SNAP outreach workers and a fact sheet for those experiencing homelessness. The experience was invaluable to me,” Wedell said, noting hers and the center’s work continues during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our team has shifted from community outreach to outreach via telephone. We have received countless calls from Rhode Islanders experiencing food insecurity during this tumultuous time. It has been very rewarding to be able to help them apply for SNAP benefits and provide other referrals as necessary.”

The Anti-Hunger Leadership Award is given to students who have demonstrated extensive knowledge of hunger and poverty issues and who have used their skills to contribute to the education and outreach activities in the community. The fund was started with a donation from Dorothy Shackleton, a former employee with the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. The URI Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America coordinates Rhode Island’s SNAP Outreach Project through a contract with the Department of Human Services with support from the US Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the Dorothy Shackleton award, Wedell also received URI’s Academic Excellence Award in Human Development & Family Studies this year. The accolades she has received are not a surprise to her academic adviser, Julianna Golas, who has worked with Wedell most of her time at URI.

“I met Kayla when she was a sophomore and immediately recognized her academic prowess and her attention to detail,” Golas said. “I selected her to be my TA (teaching assistant) for a large section of a research methods course. It was wonderful to watch her blossom in the role. I had seen an email from the Hunger Center, looking for candidates to work there. I urged Kayla to check it out and apply. To her credit she followed through and ran with the opportunity.”

After having graduated from URI in May, Wedell will continue her education in the Master of Social Work program at Rhode Island College, where she plans to continue her work with the homeless population.

“I will continue to be an advocate and ally for those in need,” Wedell said.