Board of Directors

Julie Cesare, Chairperson

Julie Cesare is dedicated to bringing to scale innovative solutions for women and children in Kern County who are experiencing homelessness. Ms. Cesare currently serves as the Board President of Casa Esperanza, a sustainable model of housing and services modeled after Alexandria House in Los Angeles which has been in operation for 22 years and has successfully transitioned 200 women and their children into stable work and housing through the provision of counseling, education, support, and training. Ms. Cesare has been critical to funding an endowment that will ensure the long-term sustainability of Casa Esperanza prior to the purchase of a property to house and the provision of services.

It is Ms. Cesare’s experience with the devastating impact of the cycle of homelessness and the consequential trauma in her work for the past 15 years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) that has sparked her commitment to pursuing solutions with lasting personal impact. CASA of Kern County is a nonprofit organization that trains community volunteers to stand up and speak out to help abused and neglected children.

Ms. Cesare contributes significant experience in fundraising, marketing, organizing, real estate, and business, leading the multi-pronged approach to funding and launching of Casa Esperanza. Ms. Cesare earned a Bachelor of Science in Business from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California, and has lived in Bakersfield for most of her life.

Kathy Fenn

Kathy Fenn has lived in Bakersfield since 2010. Prior to moving to Bakersfield, she and her family lived in Egypt. She and her husband have four adult children. She is a Marriage and Family Therapist. “Being involved in this project of Casa Esperanza is of special interest to me because of the work that I do. I have come across many women who, for a variety of reasons, suddenly find themselves being a single parent having to find a way to make ends meet and are not prepared for the tough road.” The vision of Casa Esperanza is to help these women transition into a productive, independent life.

Gianna Lutje

Gianna Lutje has lived in Bakersfield since 2015. She recently changed her career from working in the medical device industry and now works for Johnson and Johnson’s neuroscience division. Her role supports behavioral health departments for hospitals, outpatient clinics and private practices throughout the Central Valley. Gianna holds a BS in Biology with a minor in Psychology from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Gianna currently works with care teams that deals with patients that are either homeless or in unstable living conditions. Working with Casa Esperanza she sees the need first hand to be able to offer an alternative approach to transitions of care within the Bakersfield community for women and children.

Jim Mosher, Secretary

Jim Mosher is an energy and utilities consultant located in Bakersfield. He spent 30 years in the California upstream oil and gas industry before retiring from Aera Energy LLC in 2016. His firm, Copper Beech Consulting LLC, provides services to oil and gas, biomethane and renewable technology clients. Jim holds a BS in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University, an MBA from Pepperdine University, and a law degree from University of Michigan. He is a member of the California Bar and serves on the board of directors of the Tree Foundation of Kern.

Coleen Peters

Coleen Peters is a full time Realtor with Coldwell Banker, Preferred Realtors for over 35 years. She manages her own rental properties. She is a graduate of Cal Poly, SLO in Business Administration. Coleen was on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) State Board of Directors from 2005 -2010. She was instrumental in initiating and establishing the STAR Mental Health court here in Kern County.

She has a desire to help women who are willing to do the work necessary to change their life and impact and their children and their children’s lives. She wants to help create a system that can be duplicated by others so our success is multiplied by many houses many times over.

Marie Schroepfer, CSJ, Founding Member

Marie Schroepfer was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.  Over the years she has served as an elementary and high school teacher, a high school business manager and staff to the treasurer of her religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

In 1998, she moved to Bakersfield after being hired by Catholic Charities as a Community Building Facilitator for Kern County.  She currently ministers as the Associate Director of the Fresno Diocesan Social Justice Ministry specifically for the South San Joaquin Valley.

She became involved with the founding of Casa Esperanza Transitional Home for Women after being approached by two Bakersfield women who recognized the need for such a program.

She enjoys spectator sports and loves the outdoors.  Riding horses is one of her most pleasurable activities.  She enjoys the company of her playful beagle mix that she found fourteen years ago and named Keeper.

Bonita Steele

Dr. Bonita Steele, serves as the Project Director for the Kern Community College District’s California Career Pathways Trust Grant. The Pathways Trust Grant engages more than 30 educational and business partners in a four year $9.5 million project to implement high school to college pathways in nine industry sectors. In its first year, the project reached 11,142 high school and 532 college pathway students. Prior to assuming responsibility for the Pathways Trust Grant project, Ms. Steele served as the District Director of Grants and Resource Development for eight years, during which time, she provided workshops on grant writing, and engaged in programmatic design and problem solving, and acquired grant awards of more than $28 million dollars. Ms. Steele earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus on Higher Education from California State University Fresno, and earned a Master and Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from California State University Bakersfield.

Lisa Elzy Watson

In 2016, she started working as a business consultant to a small local transportation company. Now as the Managing Director, Lisa led the company to the number two spot on Yelp as the Central Valley’s transportation provider to local and regional airports. It turns out to be a delightful experience, connecting across demographics to reach the entire community. She embraced all aspects of the business: marketing, restructuring the back office, implementing an online reservation system, and launching the company’s first website. Customer Satisfaction was increased to 95% by reducing customer wait time, increasing scheduling efficiencies, and restructuring the driver’s work schedule.

The CEO and Founder of Lightwave Education, Ms. Watson established a non-profit dedicated to education, mentoring and community outreach. A speaker, author, dynamic growth counselor and human potential activator, Lisa shares her personal experiences and humorous insights gathered from more than 20 years of studying human development to assist others with their individual transformations. Ms. Watson specializes in teaching Universal Life Principles and how to use them as tools for an empowered life. A graduate of the University of Michigan, she chose the sunny climate of California to build her life.

A gifted speaker, workshop leader and coach, Ms. Watson has an active private counseling practice. She facilitates women’s leadership groups and facilitates weekly transformational classes. Ms. Watson acted as a Master Spiritual Counselor with the Agape International Center in Culver City, California for over 15 years. As a highly sought-after speaker, she creates an intimate atmosphere, wherein audience members are comfortable sharing, participating, and deeply engaged in meaningful dialogue and learning. Ms. Watson’s unique perspective and leadership has been commissioned by Coca-Cola, City of Los Angeles- Community Redevelopment Agency, City of Los Angeles-Department of Water and Power, University of Southern California-Board of Directors- Black Alumni Association, The Onion, Kern County Network for Children, NADP, Center for Spiritual Living, Bakersfield for leadership, facilitation, and speaking engagements at large conferences, small workshops and working groups.

Ms. Watson travels extensively around the world studying culture, comparative religions and ancient wisdom teachings. A proud mother of the 1st African American Woman President of UC Davis ASUCD, she stays active organizing community projects like the 2019 Peace March celebrating our commonality as a community.