Humans are created in God’s image—every one of us. That’s what Meredith Wiggers Heintz ’93 wants you to know. “As people who claim Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have to be willing to give to the least of these. We have to be willing to look at them—to really see them. They have so much to offer,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Heintz doesn’t come across as an emotional kind of person. She was a swimmer at Calvin and credits that experience with instilling discipline. She’s a self-proclaimed workaholic—working late into the night, fielding phone calls, and making sure things are done just right.
She channels that energy, discipline, and passion into her current role as the head of school at Promise Christian Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. Students at the school come with a diagnosis of some kind, many with autism or Down syndrome. In other words, Heintz’s life’s work is serving and learning from the least of these.
“God doesn’t make a mistake. Why should we hide what society views as a mistake? To see the joy and the love that these students can give to society … it’s worth every sweat and perspiration,” she said.
Heintz was born in west Michigan and moved to St. Louis in sixth grade. As a senior at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, she was affected by a volunteer project at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “I saw the worst of the worst—gunshot wounds, brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries,” she said. She also saw a recreation therapy department at the hospital that completely intrigued her.
The seed for recreation therapy was planted in high school, and it was watered at Calvin. Two days into her first year, Heintz discovered there was a recreation therapy major. “I went straight to Glen Van Andel’s office, declared a rec therapy major, and never looked back,” she said.
Heintz uses the knowledge she gained from her Calvin degree in her job. “At Promise, we have a therapeutic approach to education. We don’t just look at the child’s disabilities, but their abilities,” she said.
The K-12 school offers 10 hours per week of intensive occupational therapy and speech therapy, and one-on-one help with reading and math for younger kids. “Because we’re able to give that kind of support, the students make progress in leaps and bounds,” Heintz said.
The quality of education at Promise Christian Academy draws families from many faith backgrounds, including non-Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu families. “We are a missional school,” Heintz said. “They all understand we are teaching from the Bible.”
The work is challenging and rewarding. “It brings me immense joy to work with children with extreme learning differences. I love learning how their brain works, how they interact with the world around them,” she said.
LEARNING TO STRETCH
Even though her passion is working with the children, Heintz wears many hats. In January 2020, the school moved into a new $5 million building that gives it 16,000 square feet of learning space. Fundraising for that facility was a recent experience that stretched Heintz.
“I’m thankful for the well-rounded education I received at Calvin,” she said. “When we started the fundraising project, it felt like a mountain that we had to climb. I think about the classes I had to take that weren’t in my major, like communication and English, and how I used those skills in fundraising. I never would have taken those classes on my own, but they helped me get to where I am today.”