2017 Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program Regional Homeless Advocates

The following individuals were highlighted at the 2017 ECYEH Conference for their contributions to the program and the students they serve:

Region 1
Jennifer Nieves
Lead Community Outreach Coordinator
Aspira Olney Charter High School

I am writing this letter in reference to my colleague Jennifer Nieves who is our school's Olney Charter High School Homeless advocate. She is the paradigm of a liaison that exceeds her daily commitment to students in our high school. When counselors, teachers or other school personnel become aware of a child that may be experiencing homelessness they immediately report the information to Ms. Nieves where she then enters the data into the portal of the School District of Philadelphia. Jennifer then follows up with the child, facilitating family and support services offered to the student by the school or school district. I have witnessed Ms. Nieves assisting students with transpasses, uniform assistance, personal hygiene products, prom dresses and much more.

In fact, Ms. Nieves has a closet in her office full of toiletries and personal hygiene products, donated clothing and school supplies. When there is a student in need Ms. Nieves allows them to visit the closet for their needs in private where the student will feel comfortable picking up the items needed. To keep track of the many students that receive supports, she created a template that the student signs stating which supports they have received. Last year a student attending our school lost her home to a house fire. The junior at the time and her family lost everything. Ms. Nieves went to visit the entire family at the shelter that the American Red Cross was supporting them with at the time. Ms. Nieves provided the student with uniforms, clothing vouchers and transportation to keep her in school. She is now a senior and graduating this year.

Jennifer goes above and beyond her job duties to make sure each and every student is supported in every possible situation by any means. This year in (February 2017) Ms. Nieves opened up a licensed childcare center in the basement of the school building in effort to help our students who are teen parents find quality childcare services while attending and finishing school. Ms. Nieves is in constant communication with Department of Human Services and other support services for students under the McKinney-Vento Act and those who are currently not in the custody of their legal guardian. While the students are attending traditional day time classes, Ms. Nieves provides them with community services hours, services from the teen ELECT program, and parenting classes depending on the topic of interest. Ms. Nieves provides assistance with diapers, baby formula and a baby boutique where the student may exchange old baby clothing for bigger sizes to fit the growing baby.

Region 2
Leanne Eckenrode
School Social Worker
Reading School District

Mrs. Eckenrode is very dedicated to her work and the children that she assists, and should be recognized for her involvement and dedication to children experiencing homelessness. Leanne is a building liaison at Reading Area High School. Since Mrs. Eckenrode has assumed this new position, she has helped identify a large number of unaccompanied youth in the district. She has partnered with various agencies in the area to provide these students with the resources they need to succeed in school. Leanne has also created the Knights Closet which provides students in need with food, clothing, and hygiene products as needed. Leanne is a wonderful asset to our program and to the Reading High School.

Region 3
Lisa Albright
Guidance Counselor
The School District of the City of York

Ms. Albright goes above and beyond for all students, but especially students who have been identified as experiencing homelessness. She shows empathy but is confidential. Our high school does not have a uniform policy and Lisa often buys students clothes, shoes, jackets, undergarments or other needed items on her own, so that the student does not have to come to school in the same clothes day after day. She encourages district faculty to do the same. She makes arrangements for the students who are experiencing homelessness to make sure that they have dinner in the evenings if they are not at a shelter. Lisa builds relationships with these students that last long after they have left York High. She truly lives by the quote from Maya Angelou… "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel." This is how Lisa Albright treats everyone she meets. Thanks to Lisa, the students who experience homelessness at the high school get treated with as much respect as those who live in million dollar homes. She never turns a student away due to their circumstances and is always willing to problem-solve to find an answer to their issue. Students recognize that about Lisa, which makes her a true gem at York High. She is well deserving of being recognized for her efforts working with those students who experience homelessness. She tirelessly works with staff and administration to make sure that those students have everything they need to break the barrier. She is a champion for all students, but especially students experiencing homelessness.
Thank you Lisa for your dedication to the students of York High and Region 3!

Region 4
Shandia Booker
School Counselor
Pittsburgh Public Schools – Faison K-5

Ms. Booker has advocated for homeless youth and families in her school for the past three years. Pittsburgh Faison K-5 has a high percentage homeless and doubling-up families. Ms. Booker has ensured that office staff make her aware of any students who may be homeless, so that she may meet with them privately, and determine their needs. She has completed enrollment and transportation requests in a timely manner, and found resources for families in need.

Region 5
Debra DeBlasio
Assistant to the Superintendent
New Castle Area School District
Jerry Gill, Erie School District Site Coordinator, accepts the award on behalf of DeBlasio

Ms. DeBlasio is always an advocate for the children and families served by the New Castle Area School District. She goes above and beyond, often taking a personal interest in students experiencing homelessness and providing direct support and encouragement. She ensures that when there is any type of disagreement or unusual situation, that students are immediately enrolled in school while the details are being discussed and worked out. She seeks clarification and makes an effort to not just follow the letter of the McKinney-Vento law, but also to represent it in spirit. Because of Ms. DeBlasio's efforts, more students have been identified and served over the past several years within the district, and she has contributed to a climate of acceptance and caring within New Castle Area Schools, eliminating barriers and ensuring that every student has an opportunity to succeed academically.

Region 6
Kristopher Vancas
Bellefonte Area School District
Andrea Sheesley, Regional Coordinator, accepts the award on behalf of Vancas

Kris is not only an Elementary Principal and School Attendance Officer, he is his district's homeless liaison, and wears many other hats in the district. Kris is very attentive to the needs of all students, but when it comes to students experiencing homelessness, he has taken a special interest. Kris works with outside agencies to network for services for students. When an agency needs assistance, he is there to support with his goal of keeping all students in mind. He takes time to meet with the student and their family to ensure they are receiving the necessary services to meet their individual needs. He contacts the Regional Coordinator to see there is anything more he can do, or might be available to serve their needs. Bellefonte Area School District supports his decisions without hesitation. He has provided the students with transportation assistance, food, clothing, county resources, or just a listening ear when needed. It is difficult to think of one situation that stands out from the rest – if something is needed, he is the penultimate liaison – because without hesitation, he provides supports, goes the extra mile, continues to be in contact with the student/family, and is always ready to assist in any way needed in support of the student. Region 6 greatly appreciates the hard work that is done effortlessly by Mr. Kris Vancas.

Region 7
Lewis Dellegrotti
Student Services Coordinator
Shikellamy School District
Jeff Zimmerman, Regional Coordinator, accepts the award on behalf of Dellegrotti.

Lewis Dellegrotti has been an exceptional advocate for homeless children in the Shikellamy School District. He has gone above and beyond his duties as a liaison and continues to strongly support the ECYEH program. Lew has attended all regional meetings, submitted data punctually and communicates with the regional office consistently. He not only shows excellence in identifying homeless children, but also provides them with necessary services. He is aware of the resources in his community and provides families with referrals frequently.

There are many examples of Lew helping homeless families, but one case in particular stands out. Last year, a woman with three children lost her home while her husband was away in the military. Lew quickly identified the family, set up necessary school services and referred the family to outside agencies. Education for all of the children was not disrupted and they were able to successfully obtain assistance. This is just one case of many that I have discussed with Lew and he continues to do an exceptional job as the district liaison. It has always been a great pleasure to work with Lew and he is very deserving of this award.

Region 8
Tammy Wood-Moghal
Supervisor of Pupil Services
Bensalem School District
Michelle Conner, Bucks County Intermediate Unit Support Coordinator, accepts the award on behalf of Wood-Moghal.

As the homeless liaison for Bensalem School District, Tammy has proven to be a wonderful advocate for the students in her district. Already this year she has encountered two very challenging cases, which she has discussed and coordinated with the regional staff to ensure the students' needs were met. She manages to stay calm and work diligently on behalf of the students who need her most, while also handling her many other responsibilities as the Supervisor of Pupil Services for the district. Bensalem School District, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Education, are lucky to have her working on their behalf, but it is the students in vulnerable positions that benefit the most by having Tammy as their representative.