“I’ve always loved telling stories,” Kari Jo Faulhaber ’10 said. “Ask anyone in my family. Everyone has a story, and I’m glad to be the one to tell it.”
Faulhaber, the video producer for StoryTeller Media & Communications, has plenty of opportunities to tell stories now, whether it’s sharing the tales of a unique and amazing women across the country or just promoting a plumbing company. She recently won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy, along with her videographer and video editor, for her documentary, “A place to lay your head.” The documentary followed Karl, a homeless man, and his experience spending a night at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center.
Sharing the center’s story through one man
The Dorothy Day Center was never designed to be an overnight shelter, said Mary Huss ’88, ’00 M.B.A., and marketing and communications manager at Catholic Charities. Initially intended to be a drop-in center that serves meals, every night the tables are pushed out of the way and mats are laid down so people can stay overnight. The center is returned to a space that provides meals at 6 a.m.
“So many people do not know the conditions of the Dorothy Day Center and how it really wasn’t a shelter,” Huss said. “We wanted to take them into the Dorothy Day Center at night and show them what it’s like to stay there. The only way to do that is through video.”
Catholic Charities reached out to StoryTeller to produce that video. Huss said Faulhaber was a good fit as she had worked at Catholic Charities previously and understood their clients and mission.
Faulhaber said they decided to go “out on a limb” for the video. They didn’t want to make something that gave people statistics to drown in; instead, they decided to focus on a single individual’s story. Faulhaber and several others, including Huss, went down to the center for an evening, uncertain of who they would follow. They found Karl, who also was volunteering at the center, but initially was hesitant to appear on camera.
“He was very nice and extremely charming, but he felt ashamed and self-conscious,” Faulhaber said. “So, we had an honest conversation and he was willing to put himself out there.”
For about six hours Faulhaber and her videographer followed Karl.
“Whatever he did, we did,” Faulhaber said.
She said they tried to focus on how crowded and loud the shelter is, how the facility isn’t what it needs to be. The video highlights how thin the mats are and how close together everyone is.
“When the lights go out, you feel vulnerable,” Faulhaber said. “When you lose everything you know, it’s easy to become depressed. It’s like reaching for a light at the end of a tunnel that never comes.”
Faulhaber credited Karl as being the force that made the video what it is.
“He was open and honest,” Faulhaber said. “He said how hard it is to find work, but he’s trying every single day. He has this insane sense of optimism. His life is miserable but he kept saying it’s going to be OK, he’s going to power through this.”
All the raw footage was condensed into a five-and-a-half-minute documentary. Huss describes the video as a “powerful tool.”
“What Kari Jo really brought to the table was her compassion,” Huss said. “She really was able to make Karl and others feel comfortable to share their stories. She created a conversation. … The emotion Karl shows through the interview is so powerful.”
A powerful impact
When nominations for the Upper Midwest Regional Emmys came around, Ed Heil, owner and president of StoryTeller, suggested they submit Karl’s story. It was Faulhaber’s first time with the Emmys, and their category, “Public/Current/Community Affairs – Single Story,” had 14 nominees, the most of any category. (Most had between three and five.)
Faulhaber said the Emmys featured some of the best work in the area, citing productions from companies in Chicago, the Star Tribune, KARE-TV and Twin Cities Public Television. She attended the awards ceremony on Sept. 13 with her mom, dad and husband. When they got to her category, she said she had “a cold, clammy sweat and took three chugs of red wine.”
There ended up being three winners for her category, but the first video called was her own.
“I went into shock,” Faulhaber said. “A lot of people got to see Karl’s story, so I was really proud.”
While Faulhaber secured her prize, it was far from the only positive impact to come from the documentary. In October, Catholic Charities received $19 million from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to help in the expansion of the Dorothy Day Center. To date they have raised $34 million in public and private fundraising. Catholic Charities intends to transform the Dorothy Day Center into a two-building campus that provides more permanent supportive shelter and services to help prevent homelessness, such as job training, housing opportunities, basic health care, veterans support and financial services. They hope to break ground in summer 2015 and open in 2016.
“‘A place to lay your head’ is playing a key role in galvanizing our community around this vision,” said Tim Marx, Catholic Charities CEO and president. “Everyone deserves a place to call home.”
Additionally, Faulhaber said she’s heard that Karl now has his own apartment in St. Paul.
“I’d love to see him,” Faulhaber said. “I would love to knock on his door and give him a hug.”
To her, the story on Karl is a highlight of the stories she’s told so far. She describes it as “near and dear to my heart.”
“When I tell a story,” Faulhaber said, “My goal is to make you cry. I want to inspire.” There is something particularly unique about telling a story through video, she added. “Video should take you some place in a way a written story or a still photograph can’t. You’re with a solider or inside the living room of a mother with breast cancer. You see emotions and understand who they are. I always keep that in the back of my mind.”