Sister Christina Heltsley has devoted herself to a life in service to others and has changed the lives of everyone with whom she comes into contact – always for the better. She joined the Dominican Order in 1976 and in 2000 came to San Mateo County to be the Executive Director of the St. Francis Center in the North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City that exists to help needy families to live in dignity and become self-supportive members of the community.
In 2002, Sister Christina raised money, and calling volunteers and local organizations to action, she oversaw the conversion of a vacant lot that she rented into a lovingly tended community garden with 23 raised planting beds where families can grow nutritious food and flowers. Continuing her vision of improving the neighborhood, Sister Christina then had the St. Clare apartments completely remodeled.
Seeing families in need of job skills, English language skills and high school diplomas, she developed GED and ESL programs in 2007, In the following year, she opened the doors of a brand new, environmentally friendly LEEDS Silver-rated building, which brought expanded ability to serve the community. Classroom space was doubled along with a new computer room, increased area for adult learning as well as additional low-income housing units.
As an outcome of Sister Christina’s involvement in the Koshland Fellow’s program in 2009, the North Fair Oaks Youth Initiative was developed to train youth, aged 14-22 with leadership skills. Thereafter, Sister Christina turned her efforts to raise money to build, furnish and staff the Sienna Youth Center in 2013 which includes a full-sized gym and offers an after school homework program, athletic activities, nutrition and cooking classes, digital arts classes, a mentoring program for high school students, a summer program as well as adult learning opportunities. In 2014, Sister Christina purchased two more blighted apartment complexes to have them renovated, adding 15 more units of desperately needed very low-income housing for families.
Sister Christina has taught all grades from kindergarten through graduate school, served as an school Principal, primarily in inner-city schools, and as a superintendent of Catholic Schools. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Edgewood College in Wisconsin, and is certified to teach preschool through college. She earned two Master of Arts degrees: one in Administration and Supervision from the University of Dayton in Ohio; and one in Educational Technology from the University of San Francisco, where she also earned her doctorate in Administration and Leadership.
A tireless and visionary leader, Sister Christina continually takes risks and strives to provide critically needed resources and a safe-haven to help low-income North Fair Oaks families realize a better quality of life.