Catholic Charities of the East Bay has named Chuck Fernandez its next chief executive officer. Fernandez, who currently serves as CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, will leave that post May 14 and begin his duties in the East Bay on May 27.
Fernandez joined Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa in 2009, in the family support center, which runs a shelter for homeless families.
"I had never met a homeless person before," he said. "It gave me a whole new perspective around homeless people, people in need."
Perceptions about homelessness changed in the face of getting to know the people, by acts such as going out into the streets and providing meals. "You begin to shift," he said.
"I slept in the shelter," he said, adding that he found it difficult to sleep, all the while knowing that people do this every single night.
Other memories include "dancing with seniors at the Alzheimer's respite program, people who were once vibrant, energetic community leaders" who were now living quite different, almost childlike, lives.
He is preparing for some familiar and some new challenges in his new role.
"In Oakland, you have an agency that wants to change, to move forward, to be in every parish, that wants to be a leader, wants to collaborate to build a better community," he said. "You really sense that."
It will take time, he said, but "they really want to move in that direction."
Among those issues is to tell the story of who Catholic Charities is, what it does, and how to become involved in the mission. The agency will work with pastors and parishioners to share with them what Catholic Charities does and the impact the agency has on the community, he said.
"People who contribute can feel their investment is having an impact in the community and changing lives," he said.
Fernandez was graduated from the University of Colorado, and has a master of business administration degree from the University of Dayton. In addition, he has master's degrees in information systems from Golden Gate University and in organization development from Sonoma State University.
His business career included a stint at Kaiser, with some contact on the fringes of patient care, but it was at Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, he said, "I got introduced to really helping people on the street."
And it was there, he learned. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing."
He and his wife Denise have two children, both college graduate.
Steve Wilcox, who served as Catholic Charities of the East Bay's interim CEO for the past nine months, said, "I'm thrilled to have a person of his background, his caliber. He has so many different gifts he's bringing to our table,"
"I have so much deeper appreciation for what Catholic Charities does and the challenges we face in meeting the needs of the less fortunate," Wilcox said.
"The board, the staff and the clients owe a huge debt of gratitude to Steve Wilcox, who stepped into the CEO role between the former CEO leaving and May 27," said Fair, the current chair of the board of directors.
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