Story and photo by Debbi Casini Klein | Audio edited by Louis D’Aria
While many look to retirement as a time to relax, golf or travel, Joe Lagana had other plans.
At his retirement party in 1999, he had a special request for everyone: “I had mentioned that in lieu of a gift, that they would make a contribution to homeless children, and to my surprise, $7,000 was leftover, so that was the beginning of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund” Joe said.
Prior to his retirement, Joe spent 40 years as an educator in the Penn Hills and North Allegheny school districts as a teacher, counselor, administrator and as a superintendent.
As the founder of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, or HCEF, Joe is committed to ensuring that homeless children have access to the same educational opportunities as their peers. Through individual and corporate donations, fundraisers and grants, HCEF has raised public awareness and helped these children get proper education.
“We offer a menu of services to the shelters, all the way from backpacks, field trips, connections with colleges for kids who are college age,” Joe said. “We provide computers in the shelters for these kids because more than likely they will not have a computer because of leaving home.”
A scholarship fund for college has been established, with hopes to raise $150,000 each year so they can do this in perpetuity.
“I’m pleased to tell you that we had two kids graduate this past year that we helped give full scholarships, housing, and graduated from the Pittsburgh Technology Institute,” Joe said.
“When you meet this population of children, and you have conversation with them, you’re never the same, it’s a life-changer. And when it happens, it’s a gift. It’s a gift that brings out the best in people.”