From his start in 1960 as a Penn Hills School District science teacher through his retirement as executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Dr. Joseph F. Lagana has understood that “it’s always all about kids,” particularly children who are underserved, underrepresented, and homeless.
The Homeless Children’s Education Fund really began at a 1999 retirement party. Joe wanted no gifts, but accepted monetary contributions toward the creation of a fund to complement without duplicating the good work of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) in meeting the educational needs of children experiencing homelessness. The $7,000 received that evening was deposited in the name of the Homeless Children and Family Emergency Fund, later changed to Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF). And in 2000, HCEF built its first learning center at Womanspace East in 2000. It was little more than three computers in a large closet, but it was a start!
From its beginning, HCEF has operated with the belief that community collaboration is essential in helping “our” children and youth overcome the obstacles of homelessness, develop resilience, and reach their full potential in life and learning. Community members have the opportunity to contribute their time, talents, and treasures to this cause while becoming knowledgeable advocates. One hundred percent of all individual contributions to HCEF support yearly-awarded “Mini-Grants for Educational Enrichment”, which directly enhance learning opportunities within partnering housing agencies. Pittsburgh area businesses, foundations, and state and federal representatives and senators have likewise generously funded HCEF’s mission, making possible shelter-based learning centers with computers, educational software, libraries, and a comfortable place to work on homework and activities with HCEF afterschool instructors.
Joe has been called a community activist who “gets it.” He knows through first-hand experience that awareness leads to action, advocacy, and children who discover there IS hope through learning. We have come a long way from the single learning center at Womanspace East; HCEF now partners with 27 agencies serving families experiencing homelessness, and continues to expand and improve the quality of its services. In every step, community engagement has been the key component to success – together, we are making a difference!