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Oppenheims Celebrate 11 Years Of Support For Blind

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Oppenheims Celebrate 11 Years Of Support For Blind And Sight-Impaired Tertiary Students

Every year, Leonard and Virginia Oppenheim help make the dreams of others come true. This year, they're about to chalk up one of their own, their 61st wedding anniversary.

That day, August 27, will be significant for two reasons. Naturally it's a special occasion on a personal level for a devoted octogenarian couple married during the onset of World War II. But also, it will mark the 11th anniversary of the Oppenheim Trust - two words that mean volumes to scores of sight-impaired students around New Zealand who have received tertiary assistance grants from the Trust over the past decade.

The idea of establishing a trust came to the Oppenheims as they were preparing for their 50th wedding anniversary. The previous year, 1989, the couple (originally from New Orleans, where Leonard was a long time professor of law and a labour law judge) had flown back to Louisiana for Leonard's old law school class reunion. His thoughts travelling back to his own student days, the desire to give young people a tangible helping hand was lit - the Oppenheims always having been advocates for tertiary education. They were also keenly aware of the extra challenges and costs facing sight-impaired students.

Leonard lost his vision in one eye 30 years ago due to a detached retina, which has since been exacerbated by degenerating glaucoma in his other eye. He can no longer read.

Virginia, meanwhile, has endured lifelong sight-impairment in her left eye (which in her own words "doesn't function properly"). And so the Oppenheim Trust was born. Eleven years ago the Trust was set up with an initial grant of $30,000 - $15,000 from each of them which is an annual ongoing contribution. Every year the Oppenheims have added to the principal, which now stands at $634,000. Donations by the Oppenheims are matched by the RNZFB. This year grants totalling over $34,000 have been distributed to 28 blind and sight- impaired students to help them get an education and lead independent lives. The Oppenheim initiative has also inspired many around them to set up trusts with the Foundation.

Leonard, now 85, and Virginia, 83, retired to Waikanae (Wellington) and enjoy keeping in touch, long-distance, with many of the students their Trust has helped nationwide. Of the flowers, congratulations and cards that will surely be sent to Waikanae's retirement community on their 61st anniversary, many will be from the young recipients of their vision.

If you would like to know more about contributing to the Oppenheim Tertiary Education Trust or creating a trust of your own, contact any member of the Funding Development team or contact the Treasurer, Frank Claridge on Ph: (09) 355 6875.

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For further information, please contact Catherine Hennessy, Communications Coordinator, RNZFB, Ph: (09) 355-6884 or 021-687-426.

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