HTLA: Giving Hope to More Than Just Students

HTLA: Giving Hope to More Than Just Students

HTLA awardees with their certificates under the outdoor tent at Phipps.

There are three words that hold so much meaning:


The population served by HCEF has to find hope even as they deal with homelessness.  That may mean sleeping in a car; living in a shelter; couch “surfing” from place to place, those of family or friends; or living on the street. 

It’s not easy to find hope in such places.


Where do students find hope? From their own inner strength, support from family and friends, sometimes the person’s faith and beliefs. 


We believe a crucial piece of finding hope is through learning.  An education is the best means to break the cycles of homelessness and poverty.  Learning provides the means to open the world and find your place in it.

Now add the word “Award.”  Every year, HCEF provides up to ten Hope Through Learning Awards (HTLA), in the amount of $2,500 each.  These awards are available to young adults up to 24 years old who reside in Allegheny County,  are experiencing or have experienced homelessness during their school attendance years, and who are going on to a higher education or career training program for the first time. 

We had our most recent HTLA ceremony – heck, celebration! – this past July.  The celebration was held outside at Phipps Conservatory and it was wonderful! Students were able to bring their support system, family, friends, or mentors, to witness them receive their much-deserved award.

One of my jobs as a Board member is to review candidates who have applied for an HTLA.  Every year, I get more hope for them, and for our future, from being involved with these amazing young adults. The hardships these youth have had to overcome are daunting, to me downright overwhelming, but they find a way to rise above. All the candidates write essays and talk with us about their lives and their hope for the future through college or career training. We heard from the candidates that the $2,500 that the HTLA provides will play a huge role: paying for books and supplies, transportation, or any number of different needs. 

One candidate came all the way on her own from Georgia to Pittsburgh. Her expected housing here fell through.  Since arriving, more than a year ago, she’s been living on her own in a shelter, going to high school, on-line.  She talked with us about how hard the entire time had been for her.  Not knowing anyone, surviving, and still moving forward.

Another candidate told us of his family’s numerous evictions and the abusive situations he had to endure.  For him, a bright spot in his life has been taking care of his younger sister, a four-year-old. He told us his future plan is to work in in pre-school teaching, and to eventually run an entire preschool. One question we ask all our candidates is who has helped them to shape their lives.  Answers usually range from a family member, a coach, a teacher, or some other adult. 

This young man replied, “my sister.”

HTLA recipients are remarkable people. Remarkable. They may not see themselves that way, but I think they represent the best of us. 

HCEF’s formal mission statement is that we work to advance the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness in Southwestern PA, guiding them to be productive, empowered citizens. As a Board member, for me, our mission most comes alive when the HTLA and the students are involved.  This isn’t about reading reports on the successfulness of our programs, raising money to fund what we do (for which we are so very grateful), or hearing about the wonderful work our staff does (which they do). This is about directly touching lives, finding, and making, hope. It’s helping these amazing individuals find their future. And it’s probably the most meaningful thing I do every year.

Guest Blogger: Alan Steinberg, Board Member, Homeless Children’s Education Fund

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