In the eyes of 6-year-old Cassidy, who gulps down the Starbucks hot chocolate her mom just bought for her as if it were nature's nectar, mom is everything.
Jessica Lagana came to Precious Life Shelter when she was six months pregnant with Cassidy. Being homeless, losing her car, and consuming drugs were some of the many challenges that Jessica faced before coming to Precious Life. With her baby in mind, Lagana knew she had to make some drastic changes.
“I had been in and out of a pretty rough relationship with [Cassidy’s] biological dad,” Lagana said. “At that point, I had tried a bunch of different things while I was pregnant to get myself together and I had to figure something out quick.”
Lagana searched for assistance programs that could give her and her unborn baby a home and a helpful hand.
“I couldn’t [get into] any of the drug rehab programs because you had to literally be on drugs in order to get into them. You had to test positive for drugs and I had already been clean for a while,” Lagana said.
Entering a drug rehab program seemed like going backward to Lagana—there had to be something else.
“Then, I found Precious Life,” Lagana said. “It didn’t look like a shelter. ‘This is really nice,’ I thought.’”
Revisiting Precious Life in 2018 as a mother and successful woman in the workplace, Lagana thinks back to when she first arrived at the shelter with next to nothing.
“I believe I was put there for a reason,” she said.
Lagana was living in Big Bear when she made the fateful decision to turn her life around. Her car blew a gasket and she subsequently had to trudge down the mountain in neutral gear. Lagana sold her car for $400—the only money she had at the time.
“It was a nightmare,” Lagana remembered. “I ended up calling my mom and she brought me out here [to Precious Life.]”
Lagana didn’t have much when she first arrived except an iron will to make a better life for herself and her baby.
“[Precious Life] taught me how to be accountable and to follow through. Not just have all these ideas, but how to actually carry them out,” Lagana said.
At Precious Life, Lagana was enrolled in what she calls a “crash course for life.” She learned how to do chores and schedule her time; she got an ID and started working as a waitress. She credits the Precious Life program for getting her going.
When Lagana secured these necessities, she moved on to the transitional house phase of the program where she lived in an apartment on the Precious Life campus. There, she had to be accountable in making wages, paying rent, and being a productive citizen. That part, Lagana says, was relatively easy.
“The hardest part was after I had my baby. You don’t have a traditional maternity leave; you get three days in the hospital and then you have to get right back up to continue to make ends meet.”
Precious Life, Lagana says, was exceptionally accommodating throughout the birth of her child. She says she was especially grateful with the shelter’s help with childcare after Cassidy was born.
“Someone would come at like 4:45 in the morning from the Precious Life childcare center and I would run across the street and catch a bus. You definitely had to hustle.”
Cassidy was two years old when Lagana graduated from Precious Life. The name “Cassidy” means “curly-haired” and “clever.”
Today, Lagana has a new lease on life thanks to her own resourcefulness that Precious Life instilled in her. Lagana currently lives in Lakewood and has a job as an account manager at an insurance firm. She has come a long way from being homeless and making minimum wage as a waitress.
Walking around the neighborhood surrounding Precious Life, Lagana and her daughter stroll past the church, just down the street from the shelter where Lagana met her fiance, Elian. The couple, who have one date night a week to go swing dancing together, will wed next June. A singer and music lover as well, Lagana returned to Precious Life to sing the Martina McBride song “In My Daughter's Eyes” at a Precious Life gala event.
Lagana says she also has rescued a pet rabbit for Cassidy, as the two head into Starbucks where Lagana treats her daughter to a hot chocolate. As the light from the fading sunset illuminates Cassidy’s curly hair, Lagana sees the hero she has become in her daughter’s eyes.
For more information on Precious Life Shelter and how you donate or volunteer to the organization, visit https://www.preciouslifeshelter.org/ or call (562) 431-5025.