For most of us, rock bottom exists only in the deepest corners of our imagination; a nightmare scenario that fuels our fears and motivates our actions. We learn to spend our lives building safety nets to prevent such tragedies. But for those who have watched their lives collapse from substance abuse and addiction know how easily it can happen, as well as the destruction it can cause and the seemingly impossible climb back up.

“One Step at a Time” tells the story of three Fresno men who hit bottom and their struggle to regain control of their lives and future. All three men faced the horrors of substance abuse, homelessness, and isolation. And all three men were court-ordered to participate in a men’s residential rehabilitation program at the Poverello House in downtown Fresno.

The program requires each participant to make a twelve-month commitment to adopt a sober lifestyle while contributing to Poverello’s mission by cooking, cleaning, and distributing food. Participants are given housing and counseling support during their involvement in the program, as well as access to a community of men who are fighting the same battles as they are.

In a study published in April of this year (by Wall St. 24/7), Fresno ranks #2 in the nation for the highest rates of extreme poverty. Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health (in a report published in 2015) has linked high poverty rates with unemployment, drug abuse, crime, homelessness, and mental illness – all urgent issues facing Fresno at this moment.

“One Step at a Time” is a story of personal determination, but it is also an exceptional story of a community that has shaped many lives at their very rock bottom. The Poverello House has believed in the dignity of every person in the Central Valley since the late 1970s.

Filmmaker Jes Therkelsen moved to Fresno in 2012 to teach documentary storytelling at Fresno State in the department of Media, Communications & Journalism. Before moving to Fresno, he owned and operated a production company in Washington DC that produced story-driven, non-fiction media for a variety of organizations. His impressive independent documentary work has screened in international festivals (including Big Sky Film Festival in Montana, the San Francisco Film Festival, and SlamDance in Park City) and broadcast on regional television (including two films broadcast on ValleyPBS).

Jes has worked on six continents with National Geographic Expeditions as a photographer, and recently gave a TEDx talk on documentary storytelling. His passion lies in helping others tell their own stories, and he’s moved by the diverse and compelling stories throughout the Central Valley.

“As a filmmaker, I am most passionate about telling stories of those who have not been asked to share their stories in the past. The act of listening is a powerful gift, and the ability to create your own narrative is crucial for every person,” Jes says. “The men of this film are often ignored, moved from city service to city service, corner to corner. For perhaps the first time in their lives, they are the center of attention in a good way. I want viewers when they see this video to see these men as they are, and perhaps they will have a better understanding themselves of the human spirit.”

Enjoy the premiere of “One Step at a Time” at The Big Tell Showcase on Friday, October 19 at 7 pm at the Tower Theatre in Fresno.

The Big Tell, presented by Bank of America, is a regional filmmaking initiative for ten Central Valley filmmakers creating 5-minute mini-documentaries about incredible people, places, and events in the Central Valley.

All ten films will be screened at The Big Tell Showcase: Walk the red carpet starting at 6:00 pm before the show at 7:00 pm. For more information and to reserve a seat for this free, all-ages show, visit