North Fair Oaks
The vibrant community of North Fair Oaks is one of the most distinctive areas on the Peninsula. This unincorporated area in San Mateo County lies halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, and has a population of more than 15,000 people, 86% of whom identify as Hispanic or Latino. With so many residents from one particular Mexican state, it is also known as “Little Michoacán.”
The lively business corridor dotting Middlefield Road is filled with diverse restaurants, salons, auto shops, fruit stands, and other local shops representing the many talents of the residents. Its numerous community-based organizations and centers provide a strong network of services and programs for its residents. These critical agencies offer a wide range of support, from basic emergency food and clothing to English and financial literacy classes for day laborers while they wait on the corner for work.
North Fair Oaks has its share of challenges, and it is starkly different than neighboring Redwood City and Atherton, which have dramatically lower rates of poverty and higher income levels. The community struggles with high homelessness and unemployment rates, safety issues and youth violence, health disparities, and the multiple challenges that face the undocumented immigrant population. Yet the character of its residents stands out – people who truly care about each other, who volunteer in their churches and community organizations to help their neighbors in need. The residents also enjoy celebrating the uniqueness of their community, and every summer they host the North Fair Oaks Festival that highlights music, dancing, local cuisine, and a festive parade. The proceeds from the festival benefit the many youth programs of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and provide scholarships through the Queen of the Festival program.
The impressive leadership and strength of the community members to support each other and rise above their struggles inspire us. In 2009, we selected 13 residents who stand out for their extraordinary commitment to improving the quality of life for their neighbors and community.
North Fair Oaks Koshland Fellows
Vicky Avila Medrano
Vicky Avila Medrano is a Visión y Compromiso promotora and community health worker, as well as the chronic diseases project coordinator and community program specialist for El Concilio of San Mateo. She works to encourage access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities, emphasizing the defense of human rights by promoting a lifestyle of health and safety for immigrants living in the U.S. Vicky is also an advisor to the Institute for Mexican Nationals Abroad within the Mexican Consulate, where she works to encourage peer exchanges of immigrant community experiences. In 2008 she was recognized by Congress for 12 years of volunteering in mental health services in San Mateo, and was named the 2008 Champion of Change in nutrition and physical activity in the Bay Area.
Lydia Cardoza was born and raised in East Palo Alto and graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School in 2007. For the past two years, she worked as a public services assistant and translator for the Sheriff’s Office in North Fair Oaks before joining the Police Academy as one of its youngest participants. Lydia has always had a passion for community police work and first joined the Sheriff’s Office’s Explorer Program, a community volunteer program, when she was just 17 and still volunteers there helping engage other young people. She will graduate from the Police Academy in November 2010 and will become a police officer serving East Palo Alto. With her community-rooted spirit and her bilingual and bicultural skills, she is looking forward to serving as a strong role model for her community.
Noel Chavez came to North Fair Oaks from Michoacán, Mexico, as a child with his family. One of 12 children, he felt blessed to be part of a family that valued education and giving back to the community. Noel was the first recipient of a scholarship from the neighborhood-based Gardner’s Association Foundation, and he recently earned his Associate degree from Cañada College, where he was vice president of Associated Students of Cañada College and received the Cañada College President’s Leadership Award. Noel has worked for the Migrant Program since 2008, supporting young people with services to get them back to school and providing information about community resources, community colleges, and vocational programs. He is determined to continue his education, with plans for a Bachelor’s in social welfare and a graduate degree in education policy.
Teri Chin has been the human services manager for Redwood City for the last nine years. She oversees the Fair Oaks Community Center, a multi-service center that brings together public and nonprofit agencies providing a variety of services ranging from food programs, legal services, and homelessness assistance, to a fully operating senior center and child care program. Teri has been actively involved in the development and implementation of several homeless prevention programs and services, including the San Mateo County’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness (HOPE), the federal stimulus-funded Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and Summer Food Box Program, Redwood City Homeless Outreach Team, and Redwood City Early Entry Shelter Program. Teri also serves on numerous county-wide committees and has been the recipient of several local community awards including the Family Service Agency Advocate Award, the HOPE Above and Beyond Award, and the Susan Takalo Hunger Advocate Award.
Lorena González was born and raised in North Fair Oaks and continues to live on the same street where her parents and sister own homes. She currently works for the County of San Mateo as a human services manager. Previously, Lorena was the administrative clerk for the Fair Oaks Community Center, where she had direct contact with many of the residents from the neighborhood. Lorena has also volunteered for the North Fair Oaks Festival and has been on the board of directors for the Community Education Center. Lorena holds a Master of Public Administration from California State University, East Bay.
Sister Christina Heltsley
Sr. Christina Heltsley has been a school principal and a superintendent of Catholic schools, primarily in inner-city schools. As the executive director of the St. Francis Center, she works directly with the economically poor and serves the most vulnerable of the community with bagged food services, affordable housing units, free showers and laundry services, community garden plots, and a small school. Recognizing Sr. Christina’s wealth of teaching, educational leadership, and social service experience, she was honored in 2008 as Redwood City’s Citizen of the Year. She holds both a Master of Arts in Educational Technology, as well as a doctoral degree in Administration and Leadership from the University of San Francisco.
Mary Hofstedt is passionate about youth development and voice, environmental stewardship, and community development, and how these three areas fit together. She joined the John W. Gardner Center staff in 2003, first directing the school-based Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning (YELL) program in Redwood City, and now training program staff and Stanford students in youth development theory and practice and supporting strategies for youth leadership and participation in local communities, including North Fair Oaks. Previously, Mary spent six years as the education and development director of the Earth’s Birthday Project, a national environmental education nonprofit based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mary received a Bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and a Master’s in Social Science in Education from Stanford University.
Priscila Jimenez-Pelaéz, a North Fair Oaks native, has worked at Fair Oaks School for six years as the family support specialist providing resources and activities to engage families in the school. She has implemented morning classes for the parents to meet with the principal, numerous education workshops, parent support groups, Zumba exercise classes, a walking club, and ESL classes. She is also extremely dedicated to helping the children at the school thrive, and has gotten to know the students well as an afterschool teacher. Priscila is passionate about supporting the families of the school in a holistic way, and with her bilingual and bicultural understanding is looked to as a valuable and trusted resource by the community.
Before Salvador Mejia immigrated from El Salvador in 2000 with his wife and two children, he worked in Central and South America and the United States organizing immigrant communities that were forced to leave El Salvador due to the armed conflicts of the 1980s. He then worked as a consultant to community initiatives sponsored by the Peninsula Community Foundation, Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, and the Packard Foundation, among others. He previously coordinated the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Community Alliance to Revitalize our Neighborhood program, focusing on involving Hispanic families in community organizations so they better participate in their schools and communities.
Cesar Meza-Esveile joined the Multicultural Institute to work with the day laborer program in West Berkeley in 2006, and then established and now directs a parallel program in North Fair Oaks. As part of the program’s unique approach, Cesar and his colleagues spend their mornings on the street alongside day laborers teaching ESL, financial literacy, and other skills. He also coordinates a popular weekly soccer game. Cesar and the program have worked with the day laborers and local businesses to make sure that their stretch of North Fair Oaks is a safe and positive environment for workers, residents, and shoppers. His background includes studies in philosophy and humanities, and work experience in the areas of youth and vocational education in Chile, Mexico, and Europe.
Lucia Molina has lived in North Fair Oaks since 1986. She worked as an office assistant at Garfield Charter School for more than a decade and recently joined the Mariano Castro School in Mountain View. During her time at Garfield, she became a member of the California Association for Bilingual Education and facilitated many workshops for parents. These workshops supported bilingual education and helped children aim for higher education, promoted technology by teaching students and their parents basic computer skills, and promoted cultural engagement by working with parents to coordinate school events that brought culture and community to Garfield School.
Silvia Ramirez, a Redwood City resident for 18 years, has long been dedicated to conflict resolution work. She works as a bilingual community promoter with Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse and with the Latina Center in the Women Health and Leadership Program. She is also a community liaison and producer’s assistant for Marcos Guitierrez Productions on Radio 1010 and 990 AM, providing information regarding community issues. Silvia previously worked as a community organizer with Peninsula Interfaith for Action, and is currently a community organizer with Padres Unidos and El Buen Pastor Church, focusing on developing positive relationships with local officials. She has been active in information dissemination to immigrant communities, led trainings on violence prevention with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, and started a chapter of Padres Unidos at Sequoia High School.
Angelica Rodriguez was born and raised in North Fair Oaks. While in high school, she participated in the Young Latino Leaders group doing community service and volunteer work at the food bank, picking up trash, and planting trees. Angelica was a community health worker at the Nuestro Canto de Salúd Diabetes Clinic, located at the Fair Oaks Adult Clinic, where she led workshops and taught patients about health and prevention. Angelica also helped run the chronic disease prevention program and the child obesity prevention program. These experiences led her to go back to school to gain more knowledge and training to bring back to her community. Angelica is working towards her Master’s in Public Health at U.C. Berkeley.