Stories That Transform Lives

By Eric Steckel

This past summer, I was commissioned by the Diocese of Oakland to produce a moving film that portrays the impact of the current capital campaign, Reclaiming Christ’s Mission Together. One of the beneficiaries of the funds is Catholic Charities of the East Bay, and I brought a film crew to their Jefferson Street headquarters. At the time, I didn’t know a whole lot about Catholic Charities, but that was about to change in a profound way.

Eric Steckel - Communications Manager

Eric Steckel – Communications Manager

The team that met with me during pre-production was truly inspirational. They could not wait to take this opportunity to tell their stories. Every day, they were meeting clients in a place of need and providing care and services that transformed lives. However, it wasn’t their own personal story that they wanted to share – they wanted to tell the story of lives that they had helped to transform. They were enthusiastic about the progress of the clients that they worked with and were proud to share those stories.

I remember hearing the story of Javier, the young man in my film who was victim of gang violence on the streets of Oakland. Catholic Charities crisis response team was able to provide immediate and sustained support to Javier as he worked through the devastating trauma of his injuries. By embracing those restorative practices, he is now a vital member of that team, providing care and crisis counseling to others. I listened to a Catholic Charities case worker explain how timely rental and utility assistance, and mortgage counseling, can help families bridge a period of crisis and remain together in their homes. I looked on the faces of those clients served by Catholic Charities who came down when asked to participate in our film. You could see the gratitude and desire to give back in their eyes.

As I left Catholic Charities after that video shoot, something inside of me clicked…

That enthusiasm and pride was infectious, and I wanted to learn more. Though I was successful, I was not content in my professional life. There was no real alignment between my values and what I did for a living. What I came to realize is that while the devoted team at Catholic Charities were transforming lives, for many of them, it was their own lives that had been transformed. Over and over I heard testimony to the importance of doing work based on a higher calling. For them, working for a Catholic social service agency was not just a job; it was answering Christ’s call to serve others.

I reflected on that, and on the place I was in in my personal and professional life. I realized that I was in a real period of discernment. Miraculously, within three months I had joined Catholic Charities of the East Bay as communications manager. A dear friend of mine described it this way: I didn’t need a job; I needed to live out my God-intended purpose and draw a fair wage.

As a communications professional, I understand the power of a good story. The emotional pull can transport you to a deeper place and truly touch the heart. If you heed the call, the moment can be transformative. At Catholic Charities, we take pride in the lives that we touch, because many of us have experienced a period of restlessness and discernment. Not everyone will have to go down that path, but if you have, we’d like to hear it. Please tell us your story in the comments section below.

We also invite you to come and see for yourself how Catholic Charities are transforming lives every day. Our Transforming Lives Tours are on the second and third Thursday of every month at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at 510-768-3142 or