Infuse People for Greatness!
Lisa Casarez was born and raised in Fresno, and is very committed to the community. She is the CEO of Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency, a faith-based organization under the umbrella of the NorthPointe Church. Angels of Grace, founded in 2000, has the privilege of rescuing children twenty-four hours a day alongside Child Protective Services.
Casarez and Angels of Grace rescue children and provide for their needs at that moment, be it a diaper change, food in their bellies, or shoes on their feet. “It is a 24/7 wonderful calling that I have,” says Casarez. “It really is a blessing to be able to take a human life that someone hands to you, and they trust that you’re going to do the right thing.”
Children may come in with no shoes, empty stomachs, infected with lice or scabies, in need of clean underwear or clothes. Angels of Grace takes care of them and shows them love. The community has also come alongside Casarez’s vision, with businesses, churches, and individuals helping via donations.
Passion from Personal Experience
Casarez’s passion for rescuing children stems from an experience in her own life. “I never intended to go to college and become a social worker,” she says. “My whole goal in life was to be married.” She was groomed from the age of twelve to enter an arranged marriage at eighteen years old. There were no other options for her. A month after her eighteenth birthday, she was wed.
“I married, and I ended up in a very abusive relationship, a lot of domestic violence,” says Casarez. “It was really a sad situation because I continued to try to make it work.” When she tried to get help from people who had mentored her throughout her life, she was told to go back to her husband and things would get better. “It was almost like a martyr syndrome. If you accept these beatings, God loves you more.”
A woman who lived across the street from Casarez was in a similar situation, and the two of them became very close. If the police weren’t at one of their houses, they were at the other one.
The other girl became her Ya-Ya Sister. “We called her Ya-Ya because in our culture, whenever you’re in pain and someone is helping you, they say ‘ya, ya, it’s going to be okay,’” says Casarez.
The Ya-Ya Sister’s goal in life was to get old with her husband and drink coffee on the porch and see her grandchildren grow up. In her mind, nobody would ever love her children the way her husband did. Casarez’s goal became the same. “No matter how bad my situation was, I always had that in the back of my mind, that one day I was going to get old with my husband, we were going to have our grandchildren together, and sit on the porch and drink coffee. And no one was ever going to love them like he did.”
Then early one morning the police came to her door with a white, shocked face. Casarez made a joke asking if she had been beat up again and nobody told her. She soon learned that her Ya-Ya Sister’s husband had finally murdered her. Her friend was dead.
“It was an aha moment for me, because the goal was to get old, not to die,” says Casarez. The officer gave her a card to the Marjaree Mason Center and asked her to not let the same thing happen to her. That night when her husband came home, Casarez fled with her four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. She ran out and never turned back.
With two young children in her Chevy and fifty cents in her pocket, Casarez ended up in the middle of Fresno. She asked God to take care of her, and as she reached into her pocket she found the card to the Marjaree Mason Center. There was a pay phone nearby, so she called them and they came to get her. “They put shoes on my feet and they gave me hope,” says Casarez. She was given encouragement and a place to be safe. “My goal was now to live, and to take care of my children.”
More Than Medical Help
“It was a nurse at the old community hospital that really made a difference in my life,” she says. After she had gone through the Marjaree Mason Center, they sent her to the hospital as a trauma patient. Other patients in worse condition were coming in on ambulances, so Casarez was waiting to be seen. She was twenty-three years old, with two young children and a third on the way, without the support of her family since she had decided to leave her arranged marriage, laying on a gurney in the hospital. The nurse would come around like a butterfly and tell her that she had value, and it would be okay, and that this was just a little bump in the road. “There was a moment when she just kind of cupped my face in her hands and just looked into my eyes, and just told me how beautiful I was and that this shouldn’t happen to me and it’s not something that I did to myself,” says Casarez.
“When I left, her words stayed in my soul. I knew that she thought I was beautiful, she thought I was significant, she thought I didn’t deserve this.” Casarez grabbed onto those words as she was coming out of that dark place, and every time she rescues a child, she tells them the same thing — “You’re worthy. This is not your fault. This is a little bump in the road.”
Help Through Donations
Even if Child Protective Services calls and Casarez doesn’t have a home available for the child, Angels of Grace still provides clothes, diapers, formula, lice medicine, shoes, and gift cards to McDonald’s. Many children have not eaten when they are rescued. “I used to just go in (to McDonald’s) and swipe my debit card, and at the end of the month we’d have a thousand or two thousand dollar bill to McDonald’s because I would say ‘just feed everybody,’ and it got too expensive for our budget.” So her accountant advised her to work on getting donations. “These things could not happen without the community,” she says. “It could just be a $5 gift card, but you know what? You fed a child that day.”
Angels of Grace is also constantly looking for good foster homes. Casarez is very cautious about who she certifies to make sure they are going into fostering for the right reasons. “Now it’s a much more challenging situation that we’re in as far as the onset of certifying families. Now they have to be ready to adopt. We have to groom them in a place where if these children are free for adoption, we are able to move in that direction.” Since starting Angels of Grace in 2000, Casarez has had 336 children adopted, and she’s helped thousands more.
Contact Angels of Grace
Call Angels of Grace at 559-268-0000 or visit the website.