Making a Mark: Caleb Stokes Looks for Direction While Moving Forward

May 1st, 2024
Reading time: 5 minutes

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One of Caleb Stokes’ defining moments in his life came when he was just nine years old.

His father, who cared about giving Caleb a proper cinematic education, took Caleb to see The Exorcist in the movie theater. While most kids his age would have buried their faces in their parent’s shoulders, Caleb was enthralled—so much so that he is currently pursuing a film production associate’s degree at City College in San Francisco.

But let’s pump the brakes. We’re getting ahead of the story.

Caleb is an administrative assistant for the Brightmark executive team. This means he handles tasks and requests and generally ensures everything runs smoothly. It’s an essential job for executives on a mission to Reimagine Waste.

Caleb has been at Brightmark for nearly a year, but his path to Brightmark and San Francisco has been anything but straightforward, so let’s jump back and see how Caleb arrived at this very moment.

His parents both worked nonstop. It’s what Caleb remembers about his upbringing in Reno, Nevada. That and the house that looked like something pulled straight out of a country western movie. It even had saddles on the wall, in case you didn’t get the point.

After graduating high school, it wouldn’t surprise you that Caleb’s first job was working at the now-defunct Hollywood Video. He was surrounded by art that moved him, and it was an ideal landing spot for a guy who wanted to make film his livelihood.

“After Hollywood Video, I worked at Borders for a stint, followed by a spell at a company that solicited people to buy timeshares,” said Caleb. “After both companies folded, I was unemployed for a bit before I landed a job working at the same hospital where I was born.”

Coming full circle, it was not. Caleb felt trapped in Reno. Between friends leaving, a few passing away, and losing his dad to heart failure, The Biggest Little City in the World started to feel like it was closing in on him, so he left.

“I saw my fate playing out like those friends who lost their lives too early,” adds Caleb. “I feared I would never experience anything outside of my comfort zone, so I left before I had the opportunity to think about it too long.”

A friend from home had moved to Oakland, so Caleb reached out to see if he could crash at his place until he got his feet on the ground. Within a week, Caleb sold most of his possessions and left Nevada for good.

“Society, in general, felt pretty rough,” adds Caleb. “I was grieving the loss of my dad and watching what was happening in our country, and I just didn’t feel great about where we were headed. I had to make a move to shake things up.”

After settling down in the Bay Area, Caleb bounced around from job to job, eventually landing a job at Whole Foods after seeing an ad for job openings on BART. He applied and started working for a location in the city.

Five years later, Caleb worked his way up to store supervisor and ran the store. But like in Reno, the thought of staying at Whole Foods forever frightened him. Sure, he could do it, but the idea of remaining at Whole Foods for the rest of his life didn’t leave him feeling warm and bubbly, so he bet on himself again and started looking for something that would fill his soul.

“I like a challenge,” says Caleb. “As someone without a traditional degree, I have to work harder than everyone else to get ahead, which is what I accomplished at Whole Foods. But there was something missing.”

While working at Whole Foods–and the hospital, for that matter–it always bothered Caleb how much waste was being generated. After coming across Brightmark on LinkedIn, it seemed like a great fit, so he applied.

And, once again, his bet on himself paid off.

After five interviews, he landed the job he finds himself in today, but this time, it’s a job he doesn’t see himself leaving anytime soon.

“Even in two years when I finish my associate’s degree, I think I’ll want to continue to work at Brightmark,” says Caleb. “The fact that I love working here says a lot about the company and its mission, which is really empowering.”

If you ask Caleb which movie he can relate to the most, he’ll tell you it’s Alien, specifically Ripley, the character played by Sigourney Weaver. It says a lot about Caleb and the person he has become since moving to California.

“There is a great story at the heart of this movie,” says Caleb. “Ripley brings an entire spacecraft down by herself and continues to survive through the entire story as she fights to defeat the enemy. I think there’s a lot we can take away from her plight.”

If Caleb sees any of himself in Ripley, it’s the ability to bounce back from adversity and thrive in a situation that might not be ideal while dreaming of better days. Brightmark may not be the catalyst for a long and fulfilling life, but the role gives Caleb the ability to work toward a greater purpose for the world while seeking out his own starring role.

Man posing for professional headshot
Brad Marley

Brad is a lifelong storyteller who helps companies find their single source of truth. He works with brands in tech and sustainability to identify their most impactful narratives and ensure that messaging is weaved throughout their storytelling efforts. Brad brings more than 20 years of storytelling experience to bear as he helps Brightmark make its mark.

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