Transforming Lives: Growing “Christ’s Church In the Street”

As our guests began arriving at the Concord Hilton for our very first “Transforming Lives Annual Fundraising Luncheon,” there was a buzz in the air. Our staff could feel it, our board members could feel it, and our guests were beginning to get the sense that this was going to be a special day.

Chuck Fernandez talks about his vision for Catholic Charities of the East Bay

Chuck Fernandez talks about his vision for Catholic Charities of the East Bay

Since Chuck Fernandez joined Catholic Charities of the East Bay as CEO in May of 2014, he has often spoken about being “relevant and responsive” in the Diocese of Oakland. He has insisted that we follow Pope Francis’ lead and be “Christ’s church in the street.” Those were never hollow words, but for many, the luncheon was an “aha” moment. For many, it was a realization that their Catholic Charities was truly Transforming Lives.

Cassandra Mitchell and Lillie Thornton are welcomed by Board Member John Espinoza

Cassandra Mitchell and Lillie Thornton are welcomed by Board Member John Espinoza

One of the highlights of the event was the 10-minute video that told the story of three Catholic Charities clients. The video ended with the testimonial of Cassandra Mitchell, who is battling stage 4 liver cancer and no longer able to work, and her sister Lillie Thornton, who cares for her ailing sister and two of their grandsons. Catholic Charities was able to help keep them in their home and stabilize their household through our Critical Family Needs rental assistance program.

Tysce and Marcus look on as their grandmothers captivate the audience

Tysce and Marcus look on as their grandmothers captivate the audience

When the lights went on at the end of the video, the two grandmothers took the stage with their grandsons, Tysce and Marcus. What transpired was truly spontaneous. The entire audience of nearly 500 guests rose in unison for a standing ovation.

“We were shocked,” said Lillie, with a tear in her eye. “We weren’t sure if we could get up in front of all of those people. I’m just overwhelmed.”

“I know that many hearts were touched by what they saw, and what they heard,” Chuck Fernandez explained. “That is what is so important about an event like this. By telling these transformative stories, we have the chance to connect in a way that transforms the lives of those in the audience.”

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, and Bishop Emeritus John Cummins both attended the luncheon and were proud of what they witnessed. They commented that they were excited by the energy in the room and encouraged by the direction that Catholic Charities is moving.

Our guests from Saint Raymond sensed that this was going to be a special day

Our guests from Saint Raymond sensed that this was going to be a special day

The staff and board were touched by the day’s events as well. “I’m one of the old-timers here,” confessed Joe Vallor, Development Database Manager at Catholic Charities of the East Bay. “I can tell you it was a fantastic feeling. We all worked together as a team, which really moved me.”

“This was a phenomenal event,” said Christa Fairfield, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors. “The amount of planning, effort and team work was evident in the success. I can’t wait to continue hearing about the fruits of the efforts.”

That enthusiasm for the continued work of Catholic Charities is crucial. As we all work together – staff, board, and clients – we are growing “Christ’s church in the street.”

We invite you to be part of that work – join us for our Transforming Lives Tour. Our final tour of 2015 will be on Thursday, December 10th  from 12 pm – 1 pm at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. From January through September of 2016, we will hold our regular tours on the 2nd and 3rd Tuesday of every month, also from 12 pm – 1 pm at our main office in Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at (510) 768-3142 or dgunn@cceb.org to attend.

By Eric L. Steckel

Transforming Lives…Take the Tour, Learn More and Get Involved!