Homeless to Hero: A Great American Story

“I recall on one occasion watching my mom use the only few dollars she had to buy one slice of pizza for me and my sister from a vendor on the street in New York.”

Lisa Feliciano is  a well-liked and respected leader at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Health System. The road that led her to central Louisiana is anything but traditional. However, it is an amazing one.

Read more below of Lisa’s amazing journey from homelessness to hero…Lisa Feliciano was born in the Bronx, New York to a hard working mom trying to survive on a teacher’s aide salary. She and her mom and sister lived in the heart of the city yet never had a solid roof over their heads to call home.

“We constantly found shelter wherever we could find safety for a while. Some places were better than others.” Lisa describes her young childhood years as challenging but happy.

“My mom wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself or our situation. We were actually a very content family of three and didn’t really know life differently than the perspective we had back then. I’m sure Mom did, but she worked hard to never allow us to feel like we were missing out. Mom was tough and resilient with faith stronger than anything I’ve ever seen. She was confident God would see us through whatever situation we faced.”

Lisa credits her strong independence, survival mentality and trust in the Lord to her mom. But she recalls moments of her early years and was very aware their situation was dire.

“Mom always made sure my sister and I had something to eat. We qualified for the school lunch program which wasn’t as well-known back then as it is today. It was because of that program that we were able to eat every day and have good nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch. Now that I’m a mom myself, I appreciate that program so much more than I did back then.

My mom’s eating habits were a different story. At night, I rarely remember seeing my mom eat anything at all. I recall on one occasion watching my mom use the only few dollars she had to buy one slice of pizza for me and my sister from a vendor on the street in New York City. We shared it, not fully aware of the sacrifice my mom was making.”
When Lisa was about seven she met the man she calls her dad to this day.

“I took to him immediately. He had a hard-working pride and integrity about him that I was really drawn to.”

Lisa’s father owned a plumbing business that struggled and ultimately went under, leaving them once again, homeless.

“We had nowhere to go in the relentless New York winter. But we had his plumbing van. So all four of us snuggled tightly every night in the van to keep warm. He tried to find work daily but there just wasn’t anything that would come quickly.”

Lisa’s dad decided to enlist in the Army to give his family a better life. But while he was in training, they still wouldn’t have a place warm enough to survive the winter. When Lisa’s father graduated from basic training, his first assignment was overseas to Germany.

“We were excited but really had absolutely no idea what to expect. We literally had nothing to pack. We had the clothes on our back. No furniture. No belongings, just the little change of clothes we had for school every day.”

The family of four boarded a plane headed for a new life that none of them really expected.

“It was unbelievably exciting. For the first time, we had a home. We had a solid roof over our heads. We had heat. We had food every day more than once. We had what most people would call ‘the basics’ but they were such luxuries for us. We felt rich and blessed and so thankful. And we had the community of military families that surrounded us and made sure we were taken care of. It was like a fairy tale.”

Her mother and father built a good life for their girls step-by-step, day-by-day, year-by-year. Her father served in the Army faithfully for 24 years.

“The military gave us an amazing life and I got to see the most beautiful places imaginable throughout the world. When I think back on it now, how much I was exposed to, I’m so grateful for that experience.”

When asked to sum up that part of her life in one word, Lisa replied,

“Perseverance. People will tell you ‘you can’t’ all your life, but that’s not true. You can!”

Lisa is living proof that perseverance pays off.

“My mom taught me that God would never give me more than I could handle. And He never has. As an adult today, I don’t question things before me anymore because I have enough history behind me to know that my faith is strong. Confident faith is innate in my being. I can’t feel it or touch it, I just know in the depths of my soul, I’m going to be okay no matter my circumstance.”

Because of Lisa’s vast exposure throughout military life as a child, she knew early on she wanted to help people. She says nursing was a natural calling to serve those in need especially men and women in the Army.

“My time working for men and women in the Army was excellent training ground for my life today. I learned to respond in critical situations and assess them quickly. I learned to adapt no matter the situation.”

Lisa continued her medical pursuit as a certified nursing assistant at Byrd Hospital in Leesville. She went on to earn her Associate’s, Bachelors, Masters and most recently her Doctorate degrees. Through her nursing career, she has worked as a medical surgical, emergency room, intensive care, home health nurse, Director of Nursing, House Supervisor, case manager and now serves as the Director of Quality for CHRISTUS.

“I am so blessed by this life that continues to propel me forward. I love sharing my knowledge and talents to improve quality of life on a multitude of levels from young girls in which I teach competitive dance to hospital patients in the worst moments of their lives to wounded warriors struggling to re-acclimate back into civilian life.”

Lisa believes in giving back to her community to ensure strong individuals develop into strong adults.

“Almost a decade ago, I felt an enormous desire to give back to the life and the (military) family that had given so much to me. A family that quiet literally saved my life.”

Lisa was allowed to provide care to the wounded warriors which enabled her the opportunity to give back.

“I wouldn’t wish my struggles on anyone. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything either because as hard as they were to endure, they were the very things that shaped who I am today. It’s through my darkest experiences that I am able to connect in a very real and vulnerable way to the despair and defeat of wounded soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).”

The mission to “Serve to Heal”, “Honored to Serve” allowed Lisa to serve her soldiers (patients) which afforded them the dignity and respect they earned.

“I am their voice when they can’t be heard. I can listen and understand and empathize in a way that a lot of people can’t, both because of my own experiences in the Army as well as my struggles in civilian life as a child.”

Lisa says her experiences give her strength daily in her field of nursing.

“My childhood was about survival. But my adult life is about serving. I am honored to serve and I serve to help heal, no matter what circumstance cause the need for healing.”

Lisa Feliciano is the Director of Quality at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Health System. We are so happy she is part of CHRISTUS.

Lisa Feliciano (3)