Executive Director & Board

Casa Esperanza Bakersfield

Diane Contreras, Executive Director

Welcome to Casa Esperanza Transitional Home for Women and Children in Bakersfield, California. We are thrilled to announce the appointment of Diane Contreras as our new Executive Director. With her extensive leadership experience and proven track record of success, Contreras is poised to drive positive change and lead Casa Esperanza to new heights of innovation and impact.

Contreras comes to Casa Esperanza after serving as the Director of Operations for Flood Bakersfield Ministries, where she showcased exceptional leadership skills and a deep understanding of the homeless service provider system. As the Chair of the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative’s Lived Experience Advisory Board, Contreras has consistently demonstrated her dedication to creating meaningful change within our community.

With a remarkable 29-year career in the nonprofit sector, including over 20 years in nonprofit management, Contreras has played a pivotal role in developing and designing programs and services for individuals experiencing homelessness. Her expertise and unwavering commitment have transformed the lives of countless individuals and families.

In expressing her excitement for the new role, Contreras stated, “I am humbled to be welcomed into such an exceptional organization. I look forward to building upon the great work that the Casa Esperanza Board has strategically led, creating an environment of bold innovation that will inspire women and children to transition from insecurity to stabilization and success.”

Contreras, a Kern County native hailing from Arvin, holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Fresno Pacific University. Her profound understanding of the local community and deep-rooted connections will undoubtedly enable her to navigate the unique challenges faced by our beneficiaries at Casa Esperanza.

Diane Contreras will assume her position as Executive Director in early July 2023, bringing her passion for service and exceptional leadership skills to Casa Esperanza. We have full confidence that her appointment will further strengthen our commitment to transforming lives and creating lasting change in the fight against homelessness.

We welcome you to Casa Esperanza, where together, we can make a profound difference in the lives of homeless women and children in our community.

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, Transitional Home for Women and Children.  Her work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate(CASA) for many years leads her to believe that Casa Esperanza is much needed in this community.

Ms. Cesare contributes 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.

Sr. Marie Francis 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.

Lauraine Cook

Lauraine (Fanucchi) Cook was born and raised in Bakersfield, the granddaughter of immigrant Italian farmers and skilled carpenters.  She attended local elementary and high schools; and received degrees from Bakersfield College, Cal State University Bakersfield (Bachelor of Arts in Psychology) and University of LaVerne (Master of Science in Counseling). 

With over thirty-three years of experience in high school and community college services, Lauraine’s varied administrative competencies include: research; staffing analyses; district-wide comprehensive planning; liaison between the district and other educational institutions at the local, state and national levels; chairing district-wide instructional and student services committees; child development programs and services; development and approval of district board policies and procedures; vocational education act application and reporting; personnel services for management staff, including recruitment, salary administration, evaluation and staff development; employer-employee relations/collective bargaining; and implementation of the district-wide student software programs.

Lauraine and her husband Jerry have one daughter and two grandchildren.  They are committed to giving back to their community and serving underserved children and adults.  Lauraine’s passions are her family, her faith and offering charitable services to local organizations.  She is especially devoted to championing and supporting women and children.  With her family and friends, she can often be seen enjoying camping and traveling to new environs. 

Active in community activities and volunteer services for almost all of her adult life, Lauraine has provided services/support to the following organizations: American Cancer Society (local, regional and state) including chair of the Bakersfield Relay for Life; Community Connection for Child Care Chair and Advisory Council member; Italian Catholic Federation Branch #33 officer; Italian Heritage Dante Association; Bakersfield Homemakers officer; Saint Philips Catholic Church; Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church and the Mission of Kern County.  She has co-chaired Casa Esperanza’s Hearts of Hope fundraiser for two years.

Gregory DeWitt

Greg DeWitt is a Bakersfield native who has been the Marketing Manager for a family-owned forage export company since 2008. With a background that includes various management roles in both government and private sectors, as well as service in the U.S. Navy, Greg brings a wealth of experience to his work. 

In 2017, Greg began working with Sister Marie Schroepfer to create an online presence for Casa Esperanza in Bakersfield. He also contributed to the marketing and promotional requirements for Casa Esperanza’s First Annual Hearts of Hope Fundraiser. 

More recently, Greg and his wife Gail founded a digital marketing company that specializes in a wide range of disciplines, including online, inbound, growth, B2B, B2C, brand, and event marketing. Greg’s extensive background encompasses marketing, markets, logistics, supply chain, and information technology. He is a multi-talented individual with skills in project management, online development, programming, integrations, graphics, writing, and music. 

Greg holds degrees in Marketing Management and Health Administration and is passionate about using his diverse skillset and expertise to make a positive impact in his community.

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.

Lisa King

Lisa King is a native of Bakersfield and has lived most of her life in this community.  She is a graduate of CSU Bakersfield with a degree in Business and has worked in accounting for most of her career.  She and her husband Geoff have been involved with numerous community organizations including Garces Memorial High School, Friends of Mercy Foundation and CSU Bakersfield.  She served 12 years on the Rosedale Union School District Board of Education.

Lisa was first drawn to Casa Esperanza by its commitment to providing women a way out of homelessness through education, job training and support.  She assisted with the Hearts of Hope Fundraiser before joining the Board last year. 

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.

Lucinda Macias

Lucinda Macias was born and raised in Houston Texas. Her employer, Chevron, relocated her to Bakersfield in the summer of 2018 as a Training Advisor for the San Joaquin Valley business unit. She is a bilingual HR professional with over 20 years of experience in recruiting, domestic and international HR, organizational capability, learning and development, intern program management, diversity and inclusion, and facilitation.

She has served on leadership teams within Chevron‘s employee resource groups (ERG’s) more specifically, Somos, the LatinX/Hispanic employee network and the Women’s employee network. For 15 years while serving in these ERG’s, she planned and led community service events and volunteer opportunities throughout the city. This is how she became very involved with homeless shelters across Houston. One of her favorite volunteer roles was as an instructor, coaching groups on key topics to get back into the workforce.

She has always had a passion to help women become the best versions of themselves and strives to be a role model for the younger female generations. This is the legacy she wants to leave. She has a God-sized dream to start her own ministry, a shelter for homeless women and children, and working with Casa Esperanza is making her dream a reality. Lucinda also serves as a board member for the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Dave Packer

Dave Packer is a native of Bakersfield and has been a local custom home builder since 1990. He is graduate of California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Real Estate.   Before starting his home building business with his wife, Marilyn, he was a financial analyst for Getty Oil Company and the Secretary-Treasurer for the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District.

Dave is a firm believer of giving back to the local community and being able to share his home building knowledge and passion.  He currently serves on the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House Board of Trustees and was the Board’s liaison for the recent expansion of the Bakersfield house.  He has also volunteered his company’s services for the construction of specially adapted homes for two local military heroes through the Gary Sinise Foundation and Homes for Our Troops, each of which were given to the veterans’ and their families at no cost.  He has also built one-of-a-kind playhouses as fundraisers for the U.S. Marine Corp. Toys for Tots program, Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House.  Dave also serves on the Kern Home Building Association Board of Directors and is an Industry Advisor/Partner for the Kern High School District Construction Traded program.

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.

Diana Prather

Dianna Prather is a long-time resident of Bakersfield, California. She has extensive experience in advertising, having worked for Buck Owens Production company for over 30 years. In 2012, she became a co-owner of D&E Oil Well Tools, and she currently assists with commercial contracts and financing at Prather Drywall & Plastering Inc. 

Dianna is an active member of her community, having served on the Seven Oaks Membership Committee since 2018 and the Seven Oak Country Club Board of Directors since 2020. She has also been involved with various charitable organizations, including Bikes for Bakersfield, BCHS Key Event, and Heart for Hope.

Dianna and her husband, Brett, have a strong commitment to philanthropy. For the past 14 years, they have been involved in remodeling the Ronald McDonald House and building Saint Jude dream homes. Dianna is excited to work with Casa Esperanza and help make a positive impact on the population of homeless women and their children in Bakersfield.

Lisa Elzy Watson

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 transformation.

In 2016, Lisa began working as the Managing Director for a local transportation company. 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.

A graduate of the University of Michigan, she chose the sunny climate of California to build her life. Traveling extensively around the world, studying culture, and comparative religions, it is her firm desire to give back to her community by positively impacting the lives of women and children.