Originally from Northwest Florida, Kalena graduated from Louisiana State University in 2014 with degrees in political science and English. After college, Kalena served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she worked on economic development through “Bank On Baton Rouge,” a program increasing access to banks and credit unions for low-income people. At LSU, Kalena worked on coastal restoration and poverty issues as a Louisiana Service and Leadership scholar, led the LSU International Relations Club, and co-directed a college immersion program for students from under-resourced high schools. Her undergraduate research focused on welfare policies, and she wrote her Honors thesis on social capital and the social mobility of post-TANF Louisiana women.
Field placement: Just Harvest
Kalena developed a campaign to limit the impact of the policy change cutting the SNAP benefits of able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) in Pennsylvania. She coordinated outreach to educate the public and built a coalition of partners to offer community service slots to ABAWDs to satisfy work requirements and allow them to maintain their benefits. She also worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to simplify the transition and ensure that all ABAWDs who qualify for benefits receive them.
Policy placement: New America Foundation
Within the Asset Building Program, Kalena researched alternative models of public assistance to identify programs, both international and domestic, that may be more effective at reducing stigma and promoting financial inclusion. She also provided research and analysis on financial inclusion for formerly incarcerated people.
Hunger Free Community Report
"Able Bodies, Empty Stomachs" provides an analysis of the SNAP ABAWD policy, and includes strategies for advocates to reduce the policy's impact on low-income communities. Pennsylvania's experience is presented as a case study.