Don Carney is pictured in the StoryTel Foundation studio in Omaha. Carney is co-founder of the foundation, its president and a producer. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Revived faith leads to StoryTel Foundation, videos and books

Catholic Voice

Don Carney has been a singing waiter, music and comedy group member, movie production assistant and location manager, videographer, radio host, documentary director and producer, book publisher and marketer.

But perhaps the most life-changing part of his adventurous career was re-committing to the Catholic faith after he’d drifted away.

That reversion led to the founding of StoryTel, a nonprofit media foundation “on a mission to restore the sacred.”

Carney is co-founder of the foundation, as well as its president and a producer.

In a modest Omaha studio, StoryTel puts together videos, publishes books, polishes and promotes those goods and helps distribute them. The nonprofit aims to help other nonprofits get their stories out.

StoryTel documentaries have aired on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), and the foundation’s published books have reached readers around the world.

One of StoryTel’s most recent endeavors – a children’s book, “Discovering the Land of Virtues with Grandma Eliza” – leads young ones to find peace and comfort before the Eucharist.

The book was written and illustrated by Nebraskans: author Mary Elizabeth Feda of Christ the King Parish in Omaha and artist Preston McDaniels of St. Mary Parish in Aurora, in the Lincoln Diocese.

The foundation, which officially launched as a nonprofit in 2008, is a three-person team that works together from three different locations: Carney in Omaha; his son Dominic in McHenry County, Illinois; and a longtime friend, Phil Halpin in Memphis.

Don Carney’s younger brother, Chris Carney, of North Barrington, Illinois, has helped as a fundraiser.

“We’re nonprofit in the sense that we take donations from anybody, but without his help, we wouldn’t be here,” Don Carney said of his brother.

The idea for StoryTel began to take shape after Don Carney returned to the Catholic Church as an adult. He was raised in the faith while growing up in a suburb of Kansas City but had veered away early in college, he said.

He remained away after moving to California with his music and comedy group. Several years later, though, after the group’s breakup, he returned to his faith.

 “Coming back to the Church was such a big deal in my life,” Carney said. “It just turned everything else around.”

“I just decided at some point: ‘I want to work for You, Lord.’

Carney didn’t aim to start a nonprofit. He wanted to serve nonprofits.
“That seemed to be my big idea.”

He began helping nonprofits in his spare time while maintaining a full-time job as a videographer. 

“Then I met my wife and I quickly found out that you can’t do a full-time job and do this stuff on the weekend and have any kind of family life,” Carney said. “So then it became: ‘Am I going to do this full-time? How am I ever going to do this full time?’

“But I’d been praying: ‘Help me, Lord, to get out of this job and find a way to do this work that I’d like to do full time.’”

“Then suddenly my job was gone,” he said.

The school district where he had worked for nine years eliminated its video department in the mid-1990s.

“So I’ve been working for Him pretty much since then,” Carney said.

His variety of careers have been similar in a sense, he said, and helped pave a path to the nonprofit foundation.

They all deal with storytelling, with “a beginning, middle and end” – and some “show business,” Carney said.

“I don’t mean that in a shallow sense,” he explained, “but like presentation.”

“Whether I’m doing a book or a documentary, it’s still show business,” Carney said. “It’s still presentation. It’s still ‘How are you going to get their attention? How are you going to keep their attention? And how are you going to make them feel like the next thing they’re going to see or read is going to be more important than what they just read, to keep them going along?’

“At least that’s always in my mind when we’re working on this stuff.”

Carney and his wife, Linda, moved their family to Omaha in 2006 and joined St. Peter Parish. They are also members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha.

Carney has captured several St. Peter events on video which have been viewed by EWTN audiences, including the beginning of a parish renovation that was completed in 2014, St. Peter’s annual Corpus Christi procession and its Thanksgiving dinner for the surrounding community and people in need.

StoryTel has also produced videos for Catholic parishes and schools, pro-life organizations, pregnancy resource centers and religious orders.

The foundation’s entry into the publishing business began in April 2018 with the book “Catechism of the Seven Sacraments” by Kevin and Mary O’Neill of Harvard, Illinois. The book uses Lego creations to help catechize children and proved to be a big hit.

Carney and his brother Chris shot video of the family as they worked on the Lego creations for the book and knew the authors were having trouble finding a publisher. So StoryTel stepped in. Sophia Press has since taken over publication of the book and sequels.

StoryTel, meanwhile, has been publishing more faith-based books.

God has always provided for Carney, his wife and their eight children, he said. “I’m really thankful, really blessed.”

One of the blessings, he said, is the StoryTel studio, located near 108th and West Dodge Road, at 10506 Burt Circle. The studio is nestled among other faith-serving groups, including the Sancta Familia Medical Apostolate and other health and wellness services, a Thomas More Society nonprofit law office and the pro-life Heart of a Child Ministries, which gives presentations using live pregnancy ultrasounds.

A eucharistic chapel sits between the StoryTel studio and medical offices.

Carney credits Jesus’ presence in the chapel, just a few steps from his studio, for his foundation’s success.

Funding for StoryTel “has never worked the way I thought it should or would,” he said. “God … has just carried us through.”