Our Team

Homeless Children’s Education Fund employs a dynamic team of dedicated and compassionate individuals who are committed to supporting and caring for our students and their families in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Our team members have extensive experience working with the homeless population and are proud of our impact on 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.

AJ Jefferson

20230321113159317

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.

In October 2022, she launched the Homeless Children’s Awareness Month YOU CAN campaign, which increased awareness of children facing homelessness. AJ worked alongside campaign ambassadors County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Mayor Ed Gainey and Pittsburgh Steelers Najee Harris and Levi Wallace, raising $100K to expand HCEF’s programming.
 
AJ lead a partnership with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to build a mobile classroom called Winne’s Wagon, which was unveiled to the community in November 2023. The unit travels anywhere students are experiencing homelessness, providing tutoring, school supplies, wrap-around services, and more. Additionally, she is forging partnerships to grow services supporting homeless students with CCAC, Carlow University, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Dollar Bank, Pittsburgh Scholar House and Allegheny County Housing Authority.
 
AJ was accepted into the Advanced Leadership Institute (TALI) 2023 Executive Leadership Academy at CMU’s Tepper School of Business. She was awarded the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated®, Founders’ Day 2023 Community Service Award. AJ was also selected as a recipient of the 2022 New Pittsburgh Courier Women of Excellence Award. She was previously named a Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) Women to Watch.
 
AJ appeared nationally and locally advocating for the rights of homeless youth on The Kelly Clarkson Show, WTAE-TV Listens, KDKA-TV Sunday Spotlight, Authority Magazine, the Pittsburgh Business Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to name a few.
 
Before joining the HCEF team, AJ served as Hosanna House’s Director of Hope Group and produced the only bridal show for people of color. She also held several positions within the YMCA movement in Pittsburgh, Orlando and Rochester, New York, and was named the youngest Vice President in Central Florida YMCA history.
 

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.

Kaitlyn Nykwest

Kaitlyn Cropped

Senior Director of Programs

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.

Brian Knight

Brian Cropped

Director of Community Engagement

As Community Engagement Manager for HCEF, Brian Knight is responsible for recruiting, training and coordinating volunteers for all programs, fundraising efforts and administrative needs. He performs community outreach and drives the organization’s policy and systems advocacy to improve the lives of students experiencing homelessness. 

Brian also manages the Homeless Education Network (HEN), an interagency collaborative group working to improve educational opportunities for the students served. 

Prior to joining HCEF, he taught English as a second language in Incheon, South Korea, briefly served as a corporate recruiter in Charlotte, North Carolina, and worked in a local fundraising office. 

Brian grew up on a farm in rural Virginia before coming to Pittsburgh to study at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy. In his spare time, he likes to read, bike, hoard board games and play music for his cats.

Kesa Ahomana

Kesa Headshot_Cropped

Development Manager

As the Development Manager at Homeless Children’s Education Fund, Kesa Ahomana 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 $2.2 million budget.

Kesa’s extensive work experience with domestic violence, rapid rehousing, mental health, and intellectual disability support makes her uniquely qualified to fundraise for our students and an integral part of the HCEF team. She prioritizes the promotion of 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.

Terrel Williams

FaceApp_1692145473815~3

Teen Outreach Manager

Terrel Williams is the Teen Outreach Manager for Homeless Children’s Education Fund. As an educator and advocate for youth, Terrel helps HCEF’s older teens and young adults achieve academic success and transition into adulthood safely.

A graduate from Carlow University, Terrel received a Bachelor’s degree in Theology/Theological Studies and a Master’s degree in Secondary Education and Teaching.

With more than five years of experience working in school and social service settings, Terrel understands the critical needs of youth experiencing homelessness.

When he’s not building bridges for communities, Terrel loves spending time with his wife and children and writing poetry.

Alizé Strickland

Alize Cropped

Family Engagement Coordinator

As the Family Engagement Coordinator for the Kindergarten through Eighth-grade program, 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.

Loren Kurpiewski

Loren K Headshot_Cropped

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.

Neal Donovan

Neal D. Headshot~2

Out-of-School Time Coordinator

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.

Dainna
Gray

Dainna Gray 3 (1)~2(1)

Family Engagement Coordinator

Dainna Gray is the Family Engagement Coordinator within the Teen Outreach Program. She uses her extensive case management and education experience to provide additional resources for our older youth and young adult participants.

Working with diverse youth populations and families for over 8 years, Dainna inspires our students to build the life they desire through strengths-based and holistic community supports.

As a 2023 New Pittsburgh Courier Fab 40 Under 40 Honoree, Dainna graduated with her Master’s in School Counseling from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In her free time, she loves going on cruises to different tropical destinations. Her number one support in life is her daughter, who will soon be off to college.

Sonjia Hoston

Sonjia Hoston Headshot

Administrative Coordinator

Sonjia Hoston is the Administrative Coordinator for HCEF. With over a decade of experience in project management and executive support, Sonjia fosters a supportive and positive environment for staff and students to thrive.

She received her Associate’s degree in general studies from Mercyhurst North East College and is finishing her Bachelor’s in Business Administration at Eastern Kentucky University. She is a long-time mentor at Freedom House 2.0, offering mentorship and emotional support to teens and young adults facing adversity.

In her spare time she loves spoiling her niece, reading, and watching sports.

LaMeka-LeShe Dolby

LaMeka-LeShe Headshot (1)

Individual and Corporate Giving Specialist

As the Individual and Corporate Giving Specialist at Homeless Children’s Education Fund, LaMeka-LeShe Dolby identifies, cultivates, and stewards individual and corporate donors. Working closely with the Development and Administrative team, LaMeka-LeShe maintains accurate and up-to-date donor records for the organization.

As a fundraising professional with lived experience of housing instability, LaMeka-LeShe has a personal understanding of our students’ needs and can connect our donors to this cause in meaningful ways. 

She received her Bachelor’s in Marketing from Grambling State University. In her spare time, she loves to listen to music, laugh, and read self-love books.