The Homeless Children’s Education Fund was founded in 1999 by retired Executive Director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), Joe Lagana; Executive Assistant of the AIU, Becky Rogers; Executive Assistant of Pittsburgh Public Schools, Veronica Edwards; Vice President of Adelphia Communications, Tony Accamando; and Vice President of Lincoln Investments, Jerry Wozniak. Upon discovering over 500 children were experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County, the group decided to take action.
Dr. Lagana used his retirement party as a way to raise startup funds to launch the Homeless Children and Family Emergency Fund (later renamed Homeless Children’s Education Fund). Advocating for the children and families in shelters, HCEF’s primary focus was to raise money and in-kind services to support shelter efforts such as uniforms, transportation, and basic needs. HCEF became incorporated on February 19, 1999, and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit on July 21, 1999.
In the year 2000, HCEF built its first learning center at Womanspace East. It was no more than three computers in a large closet, but it was a start! A year later, the annual backpacks distribution began, where HCEF delivered 200 backpacks to youth experiencing homelessness. By 2005, the number of backpacks grew to 2,000, with HCEF providing them to shelters from all over Allegheny County.
After the founding of the backpacks distribution, HCEF implemented the mini-grants program, gifting shelters with funding for educational field trips and excursions. Over this period of time, HCEF saw tremendous growth, and thus launched its K-8th grade program in 2008, with the goal of helping 22 students at Womanspace East with their reading and literacy skills.
HCEF has continued to evolve since its humble beginnings, adding new programs and services to meet the ever-changing needs of students. Staff and leadership launched the Outreach Team in 2010 and a post-secondary scholarship program in 2014, entitled the Hope Through Learning Award. In 2017, at the request of the Heinz Endowments, HCEF created the Teen Outreach program to reach older youth who typically do not stay at shelters but need extra educational and career-related support.
From the beginning, HCEF has operated with the belief that community collaboration is essential in helping 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. We are grateful to all who have built our programs.
We have come a long way from the single learning center at Womanspace East; HCEF now partners with more than 27 agencies serving families experiencing homelessness and continues to expand and improve the quality of its services. After helping shape the organization, Dr. Lagana is now retired from the board, and HCEF is led by Chief Executive Officer, AJ Jefferson.