How AJ Jefferson Went From Being Homeless To Running An Agency to Help The Homeless

Jefferson is Executive Director of the Homeless Children's Education Fund.

Ardana Jefferson Headshot

AJ Jefferson’s life has come full circle, from being homeless as a child to the current Executive Director of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF).

“This role is personal for me. I was in their shoes.”

Created in 1999, HCEF supports the educational needs of the nearly 3,000 children experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County, with a large percentage of students attending Pittsburgh Public Schools. HCEF’s role has developed into partnerships with 34 community organizations and 43 school districts, which help to meet these needs.

Aj Wse Learning Ctr Amy Tour

As the Executive Director, Jefferson wears many hats. “Along with raising awareness for our homeless youth, I am tasked with advancing the organization’s mission through leadership development, community advocacy, public policy, financial stewardship and sustainable revenue growth.”

Since accepting the position in March 2022, Jefferson says her work at HCEF has been life-altering. “I have witnessed so many profound moments on how our team supports the students experiencing homelessness. It is my absolute pleasure to wake up every day and assist my team as they provide that direct care. It is a tremendous responsibility that I do not take lightly, but it brings me immense joy to support those who support our youth.”

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Jefferson’s advice in life? Pay it forward. Reach out and support other female leaders.

She remembers years ago when her mentor, a vice president of human resources for one of the largest nonprofits in Pittsburgh, purchased her first interview suit. “I could not afford a nice business suit and she knew this particular job would change my life. So she bought it. I remember it like it was yesterday. A blush-colored Tahari suit from Saks Fifth Avenue. That suit helped me walk into the interview with the confidence of knowing I belonged in that room. With that amazing gesture, she helped position my future for professional success. She believed in me and that was powerful. The only payment she asked in return was to pay it forward – support other up-and-coming female leaders. And, that is what I have spent my life doing.”


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