Valley Focus: 'Luau of Love' benefits foster children

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- You can immerse yourself in a Hawaiian adventure without leaving Fresno.

Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency is hosting its annual Luau of Love. Lisa Casarez, Executive Director of Angels of Grace joined Valley Focus host Liz Harrison in our ABC30 studios on August 14, 2019.

Here's a transcript of the conversation:

Liz Harrison: Oh, aloha.

Lisa Casarez: Aloha!

Liz: I love having you around.

Lisa: Thank you.

Liz: You know, it's such a fun event.

Liz: It is exceptional.

Liz: You know, it truly is an authentic luau.

Lisa: It is. It honestly is. So, we are so blessed. This is our ninth annual Luau of Love. And we're so excited because it's gonna be on September the 28th, on a Saturday, and it'll be at 6:00 at Arte Américas, in their plaza, the Paz, which is a beautiful venue. And we get to transform downtown Fresno, right in the center of downtown Fresno. And we get to just create the most amazing paradise you'll ever experience in Fresno. And then, we have the Polynesian Club of Fresno. They come out and do their wonderful dancing. And are you ready for this?

Liz: Yes.

Lisa: The authentic Hawaiian Luau of Love is gonna be catered by them.

Liz:Oh, wow!

Lisa: So, we're gonna have Hawaiian-authentic food. So it's just --

Liz: So, are they gonna do one of those pigs in the ground and all that kind of stuff?

Lisa: She is amazing. Linda Kuma is -- She's our rock star. She does everything perfect. So, they actually make this an amazing Hawaiian experience. So you get to come out, have fun, and make a difference for the children that are coming out of the foster-care system -- that are coming into the foster-care system, I should say.

Liz: Well, let's talk about Angels of Grace. You are truly an angel of grace. Lisa, if you knew what her life was like...But tell me about your organization. What do you all do?

Lisa: We are here, and we work alongside Child Protective Services 24/7. So, we come in in those moments when -- You're saying the news about the three kids in the house have gone into care of Child Protective Services. Those kids are usually coming out of severe neglect. So, a lot of them come in without clothing. You know, clothing is very neglected. A lot of them have head lice. A lot of them haven't eaten. The diapers are...You know, in the worst situation that these children could come out of. They're coming out of the dark place, and we're here to be the light. So, we provide diapers, formula, whatever these children need in those moments of emergency. We come alongside the family. Usually in two days, those children are gonna go to a grandma or somebody in the family to keep them from the foster-care system. We walk alongside the family. We provide what they need. 'Cause a lot of times, when children come into the system, there's not provision --You know, they're not gonna be in the foster-care system. So, sometimes that happens. Sometimes the children stay in the foster-care system. We go out and we are able to provide, you know, the most that we can for the children, as far as new clothing. You know, a lot of them need to have the head-lice treatment, so we do all that. Whatever it needs to clean them up and let them feel like they're human and that they have value and that they have worth. It alls starts from the outside, and then we can start working on the inside. And these families -- You know, a lot of these families are just in a place of darkness, as well. So, we're not here to judge. We're here to love people...

Liz: And help the kids.

Lisa:...and help the children and the families at the same time. I have a lot of great stories where --

Liz: Well, I know you have stories about going and rescuing children in the middle of the night. You've gotten babies in the middle of the night.

Lisa: Babies.

Liz: You personally.

Lisa: And I'm still doing that. I mean, I think that's where my passion is. Now we have a larger staff that we share that privilege, 'cause it really is a privilege. You know, I just feel like this is either gonna be the story where they're gonna say, "It was the worst day of my life," or they're gonna say, "It was bad, but somebody came alongside me, gave me a teddy bear, changed my clothes, I felt warm, I had --" You know, all the things that humans need to feel safe.

Liz: Yeah.

Lisa: And it takes a community to do that. We can't do that alone. I'm so proud to say that this community does that. Angels of Grace has been around since 2000, and we've been here through the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we hope to continue to do this work, but we can only do it when the community comes together. So, the Luau of Love is really a reflection of our love in this community. We get together. We all know why we're there, but we get to celebrate. And we celebrate with love, and we have the opportunity to come out and have a magnificent authentic Polynesian meal together. We break bread together.

Liz: And here's some video of your event, I think, probably last year. And, of course, there have to be pineapples at this event.

Lisa: And we also have the Polynesian Club that comes out with the fire dancers. We have dancing under the stars. We have a DJ that comes out. So we can do the Ma-- whatever dancing we want to do. And then, we're always looking for individuals or businesses that would like to contribute for the silent auction. We have live auctions. And all the proceeds are for our children, for the babies that are being rescued out of abuse and neglect 24/7.

Liz: I cannot believe your organization is almost 20 years old.

Lisa: And it's only because of the power of we. It's only because this community has come alongside us. I'm real proud to tell you that we were named Nonprofit of the Year this year by Andreas Borgeas. So, we've --We don't look for those. Those are honors that we receive because we know that we're nothing without the community. And when the community comes together, then you get recognized, and people -- My biggest recognition is when those babies come back and they remember...

Liz: Oh, and they say something to you.

Lisa:...and they say thank you or they become social workers or their parents come back and start to contribute clothing, used clothing for our clothing closet. You know, it's all about paying it forward and never thinking that this cannot happen to you or your family.

Liz: Absolutely.

Lisa: It can happen to anybody. We're not here to judge. We're here to love. And the Luau of Love is a great opportunity for us to come together, love each other through whatever we're going through, 'cause tomorrow's a new day, a new hope, and, you know, this is how life works.

Luau of Love
September 28th
Arte Americas
(559) 268-0000
https://www.angelsofgrace.com/
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