Homeless Children’s Education Fund employs a dynamic team of dedicated and compassionate individuals committed to supporting and caring for our students and their families within Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Our team members have extensive experience working with the homeless population and are proud of our impact in the community. We are committed to creating systemic change to prevent youth homelessness and support those at risk.
The team meets the students where they are – in parks, on porches, in libraries – to provide the support needed to maintain their education. We also advocate for policies that support affordable housing, health care and other basic necessities that help our students thrive.
Chief Executive Officer
Ardana ‘AJ’ Jefferson joined Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF) in March 2022, as its Executive Director and was later named the organization’s first Chief Executive Officer in March 2023. As CEO, AJ is charged with strategically advancing the organization’s 24-year mission.
As a mom of a young adult son with special abilities, she is a fierce advocate for people with special needs in Allegheny County. AJ’s other favorite pastime is instilling courage in her mentees, friends and business associates. Her life’s purpose is fueled by helping people reach their highest potential.
Director of Educational Services
Kait Nykwest is the Director of Educational Services at HCEF. In her role, Kait leads program staff by leveraging learning opportunities that inspire and motivate children, youth, caregivers and families. She collaborates with education staff to build strong relationships with partner organizations, schools and community members.
Kait has more than 10 years of direct service experience in education with a focus on supporting students facing housing instability. Along with HCEF staff, she helped create and develop the mobile learning program to expand services to students and families experiencing homelessness outside shelters and housing agencies.
She Identified and developed a comprehensive data management system for HCEF’s programs, successfully integrating it into everyday data collection and reporting processes while providing ongoing support and training to staff.
Kait earned a Bachelor’s degree in English, a certificate in Children’s Literature from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master’s degree in Teaching from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.
A K-6 certified teacher, Kait received the Be There Award from the United Way and the Linda A. Dickerson Award, a recognition of those who improve the lives of youth facing homelessness. She enjoys photography, playing guitar and creating art for local indie films.
The Administrative Coordinator for Homeless Children’s Education Fund, Alexandra Jones, is responsible for all operational and administrative needs. She collaborates with the Executive Director providing leadership in developing and executing organizational strategies and policies, including human resources and budgeting. Alex’s role also includes supporting HCEF staff and the Board of Trustees with all communication.
Alex has five (5) years of experience in administration with organizations supporting youth development. While working on her undergraduate degree, Alex held the position of Resident Assistant and had the privilege of serving on the Student Civic Engagement Council. Prior to HCEF, she worked at the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank as the Administrative Assistant and served as a Public Ally AmeriCorps Apprentice with Reading is Fundamental Pittsburgh.
A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies, a minor in Sociology and a Nonprofit Management certificate, Alex leads a community organization she co-founded, loves cooking and gardening and spends time with family and friends.
Teen Outreach Program Manager
Chris McAneny is HCEF’s Teen Outreach Program Manager, empowering and supporting teens and young adults to meet their current and long-term academic objectives and career goals. He boasts that more than 90% of students enrolled in its program have received their high school diploma.
In partnership with school-based Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), UPMC Division of Adolescent Medicine and Steel Valley School District, Chris was one of several individuals who conducted a research project to assess the feasibility of implementing DBT STEPS-A curriculum in local high school classrooms.
Chris studied philosophy at Penn State University, University Park and received a sustainable design certificate from the Boston Architectural College. When he’s not advocating for youth throughout Western Pennsylvania, Chris enjoys gardening and spending time in nature with his wife Melissa and two dogs.
Community Engagement Manager
Brian Knight grew up on a farm in rural Virginia before coming to the big town to study at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating with a BA in English and Philosophy. Prior to joining HCEF, he taught English as a second language in Incheon, South Korea, worked in a small fundraising office in Pittsburgh, and briefly served as a corporate recruiter in Charlotte, NC.
As Community Engagement Manager at HCEF, Brian recruits and trains volunteers for our programs, performs community outreach, and drives our policy/systems advocacy with the Executive Director. He is passionate about building educational and social systems that care for and meet the needs of all students, especially those who have been historically underserved. In his spare time, he likes to read, bike, hoard board games, and play music for his cats.
Family Engagement Coordinator
As the Family Engagement Coordinator, Alizé Strickland brings her passion for working with families to help them discover the tools needed to thrive and succeed to Homeless Children’s Education Fund. She initiates the intake process to enroll students in HCEF’s programs and connects families to community resources.
Alizé cultivates partnerships with HCEF’s school and shelter partners, ensuring all family’s needs are met. She also maintains relationships with three Pittsburgh Public Schools and three Pittsburgh Charter schools, providing educational services to students.
She enjoys engaging with families in HCEF’s Mobile Learning Program while coordinating several events each year. And, Alizé tripled school referrals for tutoring services in the program.
A graduate of Carlow University with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, she continues to advocate for those facing adversity and help them uncover their strengths and voices to make a change. When she is not spending quality time with her dogs, Alizé enjoys gardening and exploring Pittsburgh’s food scene.
Teen Outreach Program Advocate
As HCEF’s Teen Outreach Program Advocate, Patience Baker supports and empowers teens and young adults experiencing housing instability to pursue their educational and career goals, providing outreach to more than 10 Allegheny County high schools with a weekly in-person presence in six (6) of those schools. She also oversees the Hope Through Learning Awards, HCEF’s annual scholarship program that provides funds to students choosing to pursue post-secondary education.
A trained facilitator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) STEPS-A, Patience helps to remove the barriers individuals face as they navigate life through social and emotional learning.
A graduate of Fort Valley State University in Georgia, Patience holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and a Master’s degree in Instructional Education from Waynesburg University. She enjoys spending quality time with her family, especially her husband and young daughter. When she is not playing or coaching basketball, Patience relaxes by reading or learning something new. As Patience continues working with teens and young adults, she firmly believes anything is possible through education.
Education Support Coordinator
Loren Kurpiewski is the Education Support Coordinator for Homeless Children’s Education Fund and manages the Mobile Learning Program. Developed to provide education support to students who cannot attend group programing, the Mobile Learning Program furthers the reach of HCEF into the community by bringing education support directly to students experiencing homelessness.
Through the program, she coordinates tutoring sessions between instructors, volunteers and families. And, Loren is proud to have aided the Mobile Learning Program’s expansion to reach five times as many students as when the program began.
She also ensures that unstably housed children living outside of the shelter system receive tailored academic and social-emotional support.
Loren has eight years of teaching experience for low-income Pittsburgh area-school districts, is trained in the Student Assistance Program and held positions as Teacher Leader and Lead Teacher.
In her spare time, Loren enjoys camping, hiking, gardening and photography, but most of all, spending quality time with her husband and two daughters.
As the Development Coordinator at Homeless Children’s Education Fund, Kesa Ahomana displays her commitment to promoting a culture of philanthropy by managing and nurturing more than 150 donor relationships.
Kesa connects community members’ passions and values with HCEF through contributions of time, funds, influence and expertise. She also seeks new fundraising opportunities to support HCEF’s $1.2 million budget.
Kesa’s extensive experience with domestic violence, rapid rehousing, mental health and intellectual disability support makes her an intracule part of the HCEF team. And, she promotes social justice and societal change in every aspect of her role.
A graduate of the University of Iowa, Kesa received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Social Work, Community Organizing and Social Administration with a Human Services Management certificate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.
Born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kesa lives with her husband Jeff and cat Quinn. She loves watching movies and playing Trivial Pursuit – Lord of the Rings edition.
Neal Donovan is the Out-of-School Time Coordinator for Homeless Children’s Education Fund. He manages the day-to-day operations of the Afterschool and Summer Programs, providing tutoring and literacy development at local shelters. He also oversees nearly 75 Enrichment Workshops across shelters and housing agencies and partners with various arts, science and cultural enrichment organizations, identifying additional programs and locations.
Collaborating with Western Pennsylvania schools is another significant component of Neal’s daily responsibilities as he supports McKinney Vento homeless families with educational opportunities – his true passion.
Originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, Neal moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 to serve at KEYS AmeriCorps as an Afterschool Teacher and later joined PULSE as its Recruiting and Program Coordinator. After he graduated from Juniata College with a Bachelor’s degree in Language and Linguistic Studies, Neal taught English in Germany. He enjoys cooking, playing board games and ultimate frisbee in his free time.