Holiday Spirit

St. Francis Center, led by Christina Heltsley, provides social safety net services for needy families in addition to running a school for young children. Courtesy St. Francis Center.

Posted Dec. 16, 2022

St. Francis Center champions social safety net services for families in need

by Pam Kelly / Contributor

For 35 years, St. Francis Center, in partnership with the community, has helped provide thousands of very low-income families in Redwood City with the essential services they need to live with dignity and become self-sufficient members of the community.

Located in the heart of the Fair Oaks neighborhood, St. Francis Center, led by Sister Christina Heltsley, has been instrumental in transforming this once crime-ridden, gang-infested area into a safe neighborhood where families raise their children with everything they need to survive and thrive.

This fall, St. Francis Center welcomed 5-year-old Volodymyr Karpenko and his mother Yuilia to Holy Family School. On March 4, the Karpenkos made the difficult decision to leave behind their friends, family, and beloved Ukraine after the first attack on the nuclear power plant in their hometown of Zaporizhzhia. The attack happened at 3:00 a.m., and by 6 a.m. – with only the necessary documents, medicines, and clothing in hand – they left their home with the hope of finding safety in the United States.

After traveling first to Poland and then to Mexico, where they legally crossed the border into California through the Uniting for Ukraine program, they finally settled in Redwood City. Shortly after settling in, Yuilia knew it was time to find the best school for Volodymyr, who was ready to start kindergarten. She was referred to the Holy Family School of St. Francis Center, and after researching all her options, she knew it was the best school for him.

When the war broke out in Ukraine, it was hard for Yuilia and her husband, but even harder for Volodymyr, who had just turned five. He was scared and clung to his parents; afraid he would be taken away from them. For Yuilia, it was crucial that she find a school that would help him feel safe, and get him through what she knew could be a difficult time of adjustment to a new culture, language, and making new friends.

Holy Family School fits the bill with its small class size, personalized teaching and attention. There is also a children's library and a youth center for after-school activities. And one of the best parts? The school is tuition free, as long as Yuilia commits herself to one-on-one tutoring one day per week to learn Spanish. Yuilia, who speaks five languages and is already fluent in English, is excited to learn Spanish so that she can integrate fully into her newfound community.

Yuilia reports that Volodymyr is doing well, learning English, math, writing and making new friends knowing he is safe. He likes school so much that he's disappointed when the weekend comes. She said, "St. Francis Center is a comfortable place where everyone tries to help each other. It is a community, and people who need help can achieve it here. They are knowledgeable, answer all our questions and even helped us find a medical center for health care."

St. Francis Center families like the Karpenkos have access to a wide range of essential services and resources, including the food pantry, clothing closet, shower and laundry facility, elementary school, youth center, affordable apartments, rental assistance, GED & ESL programs, two community gardens, a holiday toy program, and more.

St. Francis Center is one of this year's beneficiaries of The Almanac's Holiday Fund. Donations are divided equally among this year's 10 nonprofit organizations and 100% of the funds raised go directly to the recipients. Donations to the Holiday Fund can be made at .

"The need for family services has never been greater," said Sister Christina Heltsley, executive director of St. Francis Center. "We need the community's help now more than ever to help us expand our services and resources for underserved families. We firmly believe that together we can transform lives and build strong, flourishing communities.

"No one person can 'save the world,' but together we can change it for the better," she said.

Pam Kelly is a senior account manager for PRxDigital writing on behalf of St. Francis Center.

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2021 Recipient Agency

Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula
Provides after-school academic support, enrichment, and mentoring for 1,800 low-income K-12 youth at nine locations across Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and the North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City.

Ecumenical Hunger Program
Provides emergency food, clothing, household essentials, and sometimes financial assistance to families in need, regardless of religious preference, including Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for more than 2,000 households.

Health Connected
Serves over 5,000 students and their families each year through comprehensive sexual health education programs. Students learn to have ongoing communication with parents and to make informed decisions that will apply to their lives, now and in the future.

Provides shelter/housing and supportive services across 18 sites in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula. Serves thousands of homeless families and individuals annually on their path back to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

Literacy Partners
Supports literacy programs and projects through fundraising and community awareness. Helps community members enhance their reading, writing and related skills and education to improve their economic, professional and personal wellbeing.

Ravenswood Family Health Center
Provides primary medical and preventive health care for all ages at its clinic in East Palo Alto. Of the more than 17,000 registered patients, most are low-income and uninsured and live in the ethnically diverse East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, and North Fair Oaks areas.

St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room
Serves hundreds of hot meals six days a week to people in need who walk through the doors. Funded by voluntary contributions and community grants, St. Anthony's is the largest dining room for the needy between San Francisco and San Jose. It also offers take-home bags of food, as well as emergency food and clothing assistance.

St. Francis Center
Helps low-income, working families become self-supporting members of the community by providing long-term solutions through educational programs for children and parents, as well as after-school programing at Siena Youth Centers. St. Francis Center also provides housing, food and clothing services to address short-term needs.

Serves more than 32,000 people throughout San Mateo County, including children, young people and families, with counseling, prevention, early intervention, education, and residential programs. StarVista also provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services including a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline, an alcohol and drug helpline, and a parent support hotline.

Upward Scholars
Upward Scholars empowers low-income adults by providing them with financial support, tutoring, and other assistance so they can continue their education, get higher-paying jobs, and serve as role models and advocates for their children.

As of September 30th, 184 donors have contributed $305,280 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

40 Anonymous28,370
Lorraine Macchello100
Kathy & Bob Feldman500
Alice F. Schenk & John L. Richardson200
Jan Jedkins400
John & Cooky Galen 50
Michael & Lenore Roberts200
Gail & Susan Prickett1,000
Lucy Reid-Krensky100
Mark & Karen Weitzel*
The Mendelsohn Family2,500
Joel Jakubson & Krishna Mitra250
Betty Meissner100
Barbara and Bill Binder *
Sidney Chen & Sandra Lee Chen*
Ken Turkowski100
LindaKeegan 1,000
Linda keehan1,000
The Wang Family300
Carol Kemper200
Charles Bacon and Cynthia Dusel-Bacon250
Mary and Bob Dodge300
Derek and Susan Hine*
Joe and Julie Zier*
Gisela Brugger1,000
Karen Fleck & Ian McDowall*
Judy & Jim Lipman50
J. Wong*
Martha Cohn100
Kayleen Miller100
Barbara Kent150
Walter Robinson250
Nita & Clay Judd*
Robert & Connie Loarie*
Bill Wohler440
Sandy Cold500
Terri D. Bullock Family Foundation5,000
Richard & Jean Duda120
Tim & Mia Clark500
John & Lisa Whelan100
Barbara Oliver200
Elizabeth Tromovitch75
Connie & Bob Lurie30,000
Arnie and Judie Cornez*
Leonard Shar750
Dorothy Saxe*
Gallo Family Fund500
Barry L. Goldblatt150
Susan carey1,500
Kerry & Rick DeBenedetti*
Dennis Monohan100
Ann C. Treadwell*
Colflesh Charitable Fund50
Bruce & Ann Willard1,000
Andrea G. Julian1,000
Lynne S. Fovinci75
Roger & Pat Witte200
Nancy & Bill Ellsworth*
Novitsky Family100
Kathy & Bob Mueller100
The UMOC Charitable Fund100,000
Pegasus Family Foundation1,000
Susan Kritzik and Bruce McAuley*
Kevin Novak & Hannah Gilula500
Judy and Doug Adams*
Roger and Wendy von Oech1,000
Anne Davison100
Leigh Flesher and Mark Bailey*
Margaret Melaney2,000
Mitzi Moynihan*
Mitzi Moynihan*
John Donald and Elaine Hammond100
Marc & Mary Ann Saunders*
Owen & Hannah Sowerwine100
Robert Mullen 250
Juli and John Parker250
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Donald & Judith Mac Millan500
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Barbara Jacobson200
Melanie Austin500
Mary Ann Hurlimann500
Susan Higley Russell100
Nancy & Dan Witeck200
Betsy Stockdale*
Bill & Melba Rogoway*
Leslie & Michael Crisp*
Bryan & Susan Lovegren50
Sue Bartalo and Dave Fischer250
Kajsa Tabor*
Mayling Dixon*
Dave & Diane Toole100
Jim Lewis*
Maggie Markdasilva1,000
Ross & Liz McDougall*
Barbara Bessey*
Douglas Keare Jr & Jill Morgan2,000
Carrie German*
Margaret & Jamis MacNiven100
Jerry & Shirley Carlson250
Austin Grose250
Sue Bishop & Viole McMahon100
Vicky Rundorff*
Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Jaggers15,000
James E. Esposto*
Janet Buce Cook500
Gordon Russell & Batina McAdoo1,000
Volckmann Family Foundation3,000
Leslie Airola500
Geoff & Colleen Tate*
Tom & Ann Livermore1,000
Kathryn Stivers Charitable Fund500
Joyce castellino 200
Bob and Marna Page*
Erika Crowley*
Donna Mackowski200
Paul Perret1,000
Bob & Barbara Ells500
Kathleen Elkins*
Don & Catherine Coluzzi*
In Memory Of

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard1,000
Dr. Fereidoon Kaboli*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Doug Hutton200
Paul & Ingeborg Katz*
Vicki Jones & Dee & Jerry Carlson125
Nancy Sallaberry500
Wiley Birkhofer2,500
Stephen F. Martin5,000
Hugh D. Kennedy*
Ted Heidinger500
Jean Zonner1,000
In Honor Of

Nella and Bill Berry1,000
Marer Family200
Nancy Stevens*
The Liggett Family*
Dennis McBride500
As a Gift for

Mira Lajoie100
Businesses & Organizations

Rotary Club of Menlo Park Foundation10,000
Griffin & Sons Construction, Inc*
Hewlett Foundation8,750
Packard Foundation15,000
Menlo Park Firefighters' Association500
Lyn At Your Service*