Atlanta native Gail Heyman is the deserving recipient of the Matan Leadership Award presented at an upcoming celebratory event on May 30 in New York City. Matan (the Hebrew word for “gift”) focuses on helping communities understand their inclusion needs, enabling them to meet goals and train Jewish communal leaders and educators in inclusive practices, a mission that Heyman understands and passionately embraces.
Executive director of Matan, Dori Kirschner, said, “Gail Heyman chose to use her voice not just to create opportunities for her son, but she lent time, energy, and other resources so that the Jewish community of Atlanta could say yes! Yes, to individuals with disabilities and yes to their families as well. Matan edifies communities’ ability to ‘get to yes’ through coaching and consultations, which is how we met Gail. Our inclusion audit was conducted in 2020; it involved over 40 hours of meetings with over 100 stakeholders. At the end, Matan provided Federation with an Inclusion Strategic Plan, which Jewish Abilities Atlanta is implementing.”
With decades of advocacy work, Heyman has become a leading voice for parents advocating for inclusion around the country. She joined forces with scientists, researchers, and the medical community along with schools, teachers, and more, in accelerating awareness, diagnosis and education. Devoted to the Atlanta Jewish community, she is co-founder and president of the Fragile X Association of Georgia, which she (and her sister, Janet Schatten,) created to help other families connect, served on the task force of Jewish Abilities Atlanta and is a JScreen ambassador.
The Heyman family has received the National Daily Point of Light Award, and Gail, herself, works closely with programs at Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Camp Barney Mednitz and the Anti-Defamation League.
Currently the chair of the NCOV at University of California at Davis MIND Institute, she passionately speaks on the importance of including individuals with developmental disabilities in a caring community and serves on numerous task forces for developmental disabilities with Matan at Jewish day schools, Federation, synagogues, and the Marcus Jewish Community Center. A recently retired registered dental hygienist from Goldstein, Garber and Salama in Atlanta, Heyman, and her husband, Lyons, of 49 years, are equally proud of their three adult children, Jared, Scott, and Carly, and Carly wrote a book about her very special brother, Scott.
True to the philanthropic legacy of her beloved community-service-minded grandfathers, Abe Goldstein and Morris Cohen, Heyman began her advocacy early in her life, aware of the importance of giving back. When the Heymans got the diagnosis of Fragile X syndrome for their now 42-year-old remarkable son, Scott, it had just been discovered at Emory University by Dr. Stephen Warren in 1991.
Scott is a Special Olympics Georgia Champion in power lifting and has received gold medals in golf and basketball. An amazing young man with a work ethic that would impress anyone, to know Scott Heyman is to love him. To know his family is a privilege, as Scott is truly a light in their lives.
Heyman shared, “I remember once hearing that G-d gives special parents a child with special needs, but I believe that a child with special needs makes a parent special. I can truly say that Scott has made me a better person. I wholeheartedly believe my family has become more compassionate and understanding of individual needs. We are blessed. My advocacy is just a byproduct of my passion to help others. There is something very pure about Scott’s wants, needs and desires. He makes others feel special with just a simple hello. I felt deep in my heart if he needed a program or an activity for his ability, so did others. I am fortunate that there are many families like ours that just need a champion for their causes.”
I remember once hearing that G-d gives special parents a child with special needs, but I believe that a child with special needs makes a parent special. I can truly say that Scott has made me a better person. I wholeheartedly believe my family has become more compassionate and understanding of individual needs. We are blessed.
She added, “Even the language for special needs has evolved in the last 40 years from mentally impaired, developmentally disabled, special needs, to neurodiverse. They are individuals with the same thoughts, feelings, and dreams as others. Our society is working on inclusion, however, it’s a work in process with the goal of accepting the various needs of people who are different and give them opportunities to be included in their communities.”
Heyman’s award and message supports the type of giving that emphatically reminds the world that children who learn differently are merely gifted in ways that our society must value. They have the same hopes, feelings and dreams we all have.
Heyman adds, “They want what everyone else wants – to be accepted.”
- Robyn Spizman Gerson
- Gail Heyman
- Matan Leadership Award
- Dori Kirschner
- Inclusion Strategic Plan
- Jewish Abilities Atlanta
- Fragile X Association of Georgia
- National Daily Point of Light Award
- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta
- Camp Barney Mednitz
- Anti-Defamation League
- Garber and Salama