Our Team

Ardana Jefferson

AJ Jefferson

Executive Director

Ardana Jefferson joined Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF) in March 2022, where she is charged to advance the organization’s 23-year mission through leadership development, community advocacy, public policy, financial stewardship, and sustainable revenue growth. With over 25 years of experience in non-profit membership and program development, staff development, and net revenue growth, Ardana has an in-depth understanding of the industry and has successfully executed strategic plans across organizational enterprises.

One of Ardana’s career highlights was the significant and progressive improvement of profit results for a multimillion-dollar non-profit during intense competition and margin erosion. Most notably, turning around a failing $30 million business unit by strengthening its sales systems to focus on net revenue gain and transforming its talent acquisition process.

Before joining the HCEF team, Ardana served as the Director of Hope Group (Business Development and Operations) for Hosanna House, Inc. and Vice President of Membership/Marketing for both the YMCAs of Greater Rochester and Central Florida. Additionally, she served in various leadership positions across the YMCA movement, including Executive Director of Operations and Senior Director of Sponsorships.

Ardana is a board member of Ruth’s Way, Inc., an advocate for children with special needs, and a member of the NAACP, among other civic associations. She also lends her skills to Carlow University as a frequent presenter and lecturer. When she is not working to meet the needs of her staff, clients served by HCEF, and the community, you can find her cheering her son on as he pursues his talents in music and visual arts. Her other favorite pastime activity is instilling courage in her mentees, friends, and business associates. Her life’s purpose is fueled by helping people reach their highest potential.

Kaitlyn Nykwest

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Director of Educational Services

Kaitlyn Nykwest, HCEF’s Afterschool & Enrichment Director, works with educators and housing agency staff to advance the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Kaitlyn is a K-6 certified teacher and has received the Be There Award from the United Way as well as the Linda A. Dickerson Award. Kaitlyn holds a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a certificate in Children’s Literature from the University of Pittsburgh. In her spare time she enjoys reading, exploring nature, photography, and filmmaking.

MJ Meenen

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Director of Development

MJ Meenen develops strategies and programs to ensure that our mission is valued and supported financially. MJ earned a JD from American University, a BA from Allegheny College, and has many years working on behalf of inspiring nonprofits in three cities as a volunteer, board member, and staff member.  Outside of work, her favorite pastimes include travel, music, art, gardening, and volunteering for great causes.

Alex Jones

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Office Administrator

Alex Jones graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies, a minor in Sociology, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management. During her undergraduate career Alex was heavily involved in service, held the position of Resident Assistant for two years, and had the privilege of serving on the Student Civic Engagement Council. After graduating 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.

Chris McAneny

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Teen Program Manager

Chris McAneny studied philosophy at Penn State University and sustainable design at the Boston Architectural College. His work in the nonprofit sector has focused on family and student empowerment. He spends his free time volunteering and advocating for youth throughout Western PA and is inspired by today’s young leaders working to create a more peaceful world.

Brian Knight

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Manager of Community Engagement

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 Manager of Community Engagement 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.

Alizé Strickland

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Family Engagement Coordinator

Alizé graduated from Carlow University where she earned her Bachelor’s in Social Work to advocate for those facing adversity and help them uncover their own strengths and voices to make change. Earning her BSW has confirmed her passion to work with families and children to help them discover the tools they need in their toolbox to thrive and succeed as successful adults.

Alizé has always been a giver, in her personal life, in her community, in her church, and through her work. She is eager and looking forward to new opportunities where her time is best used helping others.


Patience Baker

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Teen Outreach Program Advocate

Patience Baker joins HCEF in the role of Teen Outreach Program Advocate. She will work closely with teens and young adults who are experiencing homelessness in order to remove the barriers they are navigating so that they can thrive in school and in life. Patience holds a BS in Mathematics from Fort Valley State University and a M.Ed. in Instructional Technology from Waynesburg University. She brings with her to the Teen Outreach Program extensive experience working with teens and young adults and the belief that through education anything is possible.

She is happily married to her husband, Robert Baker Jr and together they have an amazing daughter, Selah Rose Baker who loves to sing and dance. In her free time, Patience enjoys reading, coaching youth basketball, and spending quality time with her friends and family.

Loren Kurpiewski

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Education Support Coordinator

Loren Kurpiewski manages the Mobile Learning Program as an Education Support Coordinator for HCEF. Developed to provide education support to students who cannot attend group programming, the Mobile Learning Program furthers the reach of HCEF into the community by bringing education support directly to students experiencing homelessness. Dual certified in both English Language Arts and Social Studies with eight years of teaching and education leadership experience, Loren received her Masters in Teaching from Chatham University and her Bachelors of Arts in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh. In her spare time, Loren enjoys camping, gardening, photography, and spending quality time with her husband and two daughters.

Kesa Ahomana

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Development Coordinator

Kesa further promotes a culture of philanthropy at HCEF. As a macro social worker with a certificate in nonprofit management, Kesa approaches fundraising from a place of transparency and equity-based care. The fight against systems of oppression is the foundation of all her efforts.

Born and raised in Iowa, Kesa became a Pittsburgh transplant in 2017. She now lives with her husband Jeff and cat Quinn. She loves bad movies and good popcorn and looks for every opportunity to be useful, honest, and kind.