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The director said a recent arrival at the school who had never met Anne Heyman handed a poignant letter of thanks to her son instead.
“I never had a chance to say thank you to your mother, so I would like to write you a letter so I can thank you,” the student wrote to Merrin, who was “extremely moved,” according to Nkulikiyimfura.
“It’s such a beautiful thing. As sad as it is, I think it makes him feel like people really appreciated his mother,” Nkulikiyimfura said.
Heyman, who died in an equestrian accident o January 28, in Florida, was born in South Africa and worked as a lawyer and prosecutor in New York. She was a strong supporter of numerous Jewish organizations, including Young Judaea, the Heschel School in New York, Dorot, and the UJA-Federation.
Her pride and joy was the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, which she founded in 2008 to provide Rwandan orphans with a family and an education. The school is modeled on the Israeli kibbutzes which took in orphans of the Holocaust in the 1940s.
Heyman made numerous trips each year to the school and was beloved by students and staff alike. One of the school’s employees decided to conduct an informal survey of the school’s staff opinion of Heyman after her death. “He asked the entire staff, ‘Who is Anne Heyman to you?’” Nkulikiyimfura said. “None of the staff mentioned Anne Heyman as an employer. Everybody said she was a mother, she was an inspiration, she was everything.”
Despite the loss of the Agahozo-Shalom’s founder and patron, Nkulikiyimfura feels confident the youth village will continue to thrive. The organization’s board of directors already elected a new chairman, Laurie Franz, who was Heyman’s friend.
“The entire board has said, ‘Whatever Anne expected of us, we’re going to do double,” Nkulikiyimfura said.
Heyman’s husband, Seth Merrin, has also shown his support for the group. “He said numerous times that if you want Anne to live [on], then Agahozo-Shalom needs to continue,” Nkulikiyimfura said.
Contact Hody Nemes on Twitter @hodifly