Come on Board

I received the email below from James Wu exactly a year ago and asked him if I could share it on the website sometime in 2012.  James and Jessica met through Acumen Fund and as you will see, he is one of many who were touched by Jessica.


Hi Danielle,

I’ve been trading wonderful and unbelievably thoughtful, heartfelt emails filled with love and warmth and hope and a sense of community with many of my friends and co-workers today who all knew Jessica.

As I thought of the many gifts Jessica gave us, I remembered a quote a colleague once shared with me from Suketu Mehta’s book “Maximum City.”


“If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you can run up to the packed compartments and find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway. The rest is up to you. You will probably have to hang on to the door frame with your fingertips, being careful not to lean out too far lest you get decapitated by a pole placed too close to the tracks.

But consider what has happened. Your fellow passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like this for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss this train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them.

And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable, or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning, or whether you live in Malabar Hill or New York or Jogeshwari; whether you’re from Bombay or New York.

All they know is that you’re trying to get to the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust.”


In many ways, I feel like this sentiment and this spirit was embodied by Jessica. No matter what was going on, no matter how busy she was, no matter how stressed, no matter how tough the situation, no matter the mood or disposition of those people she came in contact with – even perfect strangers – she was always there, with open arms, an outstretched hand, and an amazingly radiant smile to lift your spirits, make you feel welcome, and make you feel like you mattered.

We miss her dearly. But, we are all so much stronger and so much better because of her. Sending you and your family and her closest friends my love and warmest thoughts on this day.


Little Blue Pilot Light of Humanity

Name: Rabia Ahmed

Location: New York, New York

Relationship to Jessica: Friend and fellow volunteer

The following e-mail and letter were written last year by Jessica’s friend, Rabia.


Dear Danielle,

My name is Rabia Ahmed and I was a friend of Jessica’s. We both volunteered with Acumen Fund and over the past few years developed a wonderful, light-hearted friendship. I think of Jessica often – when I’m stressed at work (I remember how gracefully she managed so many things in her life), when I hear a loud, hearty laugh and whenever I am doing stuff for Acumen. James gave me a picture of Jess and me from our last fundraiser which I keep on my desk at work. I look at every day to remember what an amazing spirit she was.

Back in January, I met your father at Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall. When I got home, I was compelled to write a letter to Jess which I shared with James. He asked if I wanted to share it with you and so I have posted it below.

I hope to meet you one day and hopefully our paths will cross in the future.


Rabia & Jessica at Celebrate! for Acumen Fund on December 6, 2010

 Photo Credit: Jessica Rose Lehrman



Dear Jessica,

I missed you today. Actually, strike that. We missed you today.

Tonight we attended a concert at Carnegie Hall to benefit Acumen’s work in Pakistan. The orchestra played Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which was truly magical. I know you would have loved it and would have smiled through the entire performance. I can actually picture you sitting there, playbill in hand, smile on face.

The concert was to raise funds for Pakistan. Remember when we raised funds for Pakistan? I remember being touched by your passion and dedication to each and every detail related to our fundraiser. It amazed me; although you had never been to Pakistan, you really felt the plight of those less fortunate than yourself. You felt it in an actionable way which empowered you to do something. For me, Pakistan is in my blood, but for you, it was in your heart. I’ll always be grateful that you taught me to be compassionate of others, both similar and different than myself.

Tonight, I had the pleasure to finally meet your father. He recognized me from a picture we both took at Celebrate! You were wearing that gorgeous royal blue dress, purse over shoulder, drink in hand, and we were Celebrating Celebrate! You had gathered the volunteers, decorated the space, warmed the food and raised the money. You had this uncanny ability to organize-people, things, ideas. Wow.

Remember the day before the event when we sat in your room, going over the minute-by-minute details? You had it all planned and after we were done, we relaxed for a bit and talked about the Blue Sweater, joked about the down time and next steps with our jobs, with our lives. You told me how your doorman was sick of storing everything for us in the small storage space, but you, in your charming, sweet way had convinced him to do so.

Acumen held a very special place in your life. I know that from the time you took out to give to it. Whether it was rushing in from work, or leaving to help a friend, you made the time. You wanted to be part of the change, in some small (or in your case, large) way. I’ll forever be inspired by that.

Jess, my love for Pakistan and desire to help it, will forever be inextricably linked to the fun we had as members of NYfA. It’s people like you that give me hope that one day, somehow in time, that country can shine again. If everyone had your spirit and shine to give, imagine what we can do together for this world. You taught us to be selfless, regardless of how much or how little we have to give.

Tonight, towards the end of the concert, we heard the Ode to Joy and suddenly the emotion all came rushing back. Many in the audience quickly recognized this piece and for each of us it signified something different, something unique to our own experience. But for me, it reminded me of the work we have yet to accomplish. It’s not a one person job, but the job of a community. Although you aren’t here to see it, I wanted you to know that all that work, all that time, all that passion was not in vain. Your spirit affected so many of us: those who knew you and those who you never met, but wanted to help.

George Mathew, tonight’s conductor wrote in his letter to the attendees, “Thank you once again for joining us for this concert which is gathered not only to bring healing and renewal to the multitudes in Pakistan, but also to bear witness with music to what Leonard Bernstein called “our boastfully held little blue pilot light of humanity”– our capacity to love, no matter what the distances are that separate us in time, space, culture, language or religion.” And I hope you know, that no matter the distance, or culture, or space, you’ll always be thanked and missed by so many.

Your friend,

Dance, Girl…

Name: Rochelle Ballard

Location: New York, New York

Relationship to Jessica: Friends for Life!

I met Jessica at Georgetown but our friendship blossomed when we both moved to New York.

Ro & Jess laughing at Rochelle’s birthday party, April 2008
Ro & Jess at a party in Greece, July 2009


This is my second submission to Jessica’s website. I wanted to add a favorite memory that I’m sure the rest of the girls will appreciate and love… We would all agree that the hallmarks of our friendship with Jess included: “laughter,” “dancing,” and “fun.” Jess loved to dance! Whether it was a night out at the club, her birthday weekend in Miami where we jammed out to our own dance party in the living room, or at a class with me at Broadway Dance in our neighborhood. If the music was playing she was dancing.

I remember our weekend in Miami so vividly. We were all there to celebrate her birthday. On Saturday morning we all woke up, cooked breakfast and put on some music — this was not your typical meal, it was all a part of our themed celebration. The song “Bed Rock” by Lloyd came on and Jess had never heard the song before….Next thing you know, we are all dancing around the kitchen to the song. It became the theme song of the weekend; and a memorable time that we were fortunate enough to capture on video.

My last memory with Jess was at the Acumen Fund event on December 6th. She texted me saying, “Where are you, Ro? I need you here so we can dance!” I can still envision exactly how she would dance when her favorite song came on (lips pursed, fingers pointed, eyes gazing up and down)…how much she loved Beyonce or how she would sing along to Lady Gaga.

What I will miss most about my friendship with Jess are the memories we never had a chance to create. The trips we would have taken together…. the Business School experience we would have shared…the fun, laughs and “girl-friend” experiences that you cherish so much with your closest, most special friends. She was truly a friend for life.

Jess, I have you to thank you for bringing such great friends (your friends!) into my life. I will cherish the memories we all made together and for you, I will keep on dancing until the music stops.



Soul Sister

Name: Ashley Pitman

Location: New York, New York

Relationship to Jessica: Roommate; Soul-Sister

I first met Jessica at Georgetown – Senior Year.


I met Jessica several times at Georgetown and after graduation. I had no idea during all our fleeting encounters that she would very quickly become one of my closest and most trusted friends – a true soul-sister. I’ll never forget the day I told David Velasquez I was thinking about moving into the free room in Jess’s apartment and his face lit up. He said “Jessica Fashano is the nicest person EVER. You HAVE to live with her.” He was right! From the minute I moved in the friendship accelerated at a speed that I think surprised us both. The stream-of-consciousness emails and texts were non-stop. Even though she was always so busy at work, she seemed to know my schedule better than I did and she was the only person who asked me how my day was every single day.

Needless to say, living with Jessica for three years was one of the highlights of my life. The memories are countless, and even considering an amazing weekend in Madrid, my favorite moments were just chilling in her room, testing make-up shades, talking about food & travel, and sharing stories…only pausing to make dinner reservations when we’d finally decided on which of the dozens of restaurants on our “list” we were in the mood for. Rusty Knot for po boys and a pretzel dog was always the default back up.

Today is Ash Wednesday, which reminds me that Jess would always give up cheese for Lent. This made choosing restaurants during Lent really difficult as to avoid temptation. I’m sorry we won’t have to face that struggle this year.

I was lucky enough to have called Jess one of my best friends. I love and miss her every day and can only find peace knowing she is at peace.

Tres Dedos

Name: Sandra Mergeanian

Location: New York, New York

Relationship to Jessica: Friend

I met Jess the first day we arrived in Sevilla, Spain for our study abroad experience in January 2004. We clicked instantaneously and have been very close friends ever since.

Jessica & Sandra, New Year's Eve 2007


Tres Dedos...Jessica, Sandra, & Monica


Dear Fashano,

Just as I sang you “The Sandwich Song” on the banks of the Guadalquivir River in Sevilla, Spain, on your 21st birthday (only a month after meeting you), I sing (more like belt) an excerpt of this most goofy song to you again, to bring a huge smile to your face, that is, on your 28th birthday:

“Sandwiches are beautiful, Sandwiches are fine. I like sandwiches, I eat them all the time;
I eat them for my supper and I eat them for my lunch; If I had a hundred sandwiches, I’d eat them all at once…”

Although the most defining experience we shared was study abroad (those six months in España were probably some of the happiest in our lives), I chose a picture from NYE 2007 to share with everyone because it points out that our friendship transcended Spain. I actually knew from Day 1 that I met a “life friend.”

The two of us went to Tavern on the Green. Logistically, the night was a complete bust. We waited in line for over an hour in the cold to get in; the countdown didn’t even take place at midnight; and the place was extremely overcrowded. We didn’t let any of this get in our way of having the time of our lives. We met people from all over the world, ate and drank plenty, and danced the night away into the wee hours.

Jess, you were such a quality human being, a true confidante and ever loyal, considerate and generous friend. I am struggling with this most tremendous loss. Know that I love you and miss you so much.

Tres Dedos.


A Heart for Others

Name: Michelle Javian

Location: New York, NY

Relationship to Jessica: Roommate for life, dear friend

I met Jessica during our 1st week at Georgetown University in Southside Cafeteria 10 years ago.

Jessica & Michelle, Hamptons, July 2007

American Heart Association 5K Wall Street Walk/Run, May 2009


As I’ve thought about Jessica (also known as “Jess” or “Fash”) over the past several weeks, two recent experiences have come to mind, which capture how much I learned from her about loving and giving. In early December, we collaborated on a fundraiser for Harboring Hearts Housing, the charity I co-founded after my dad passed away from heart disease. Jess was always looking for ways to support worthy causes, and when she said she could help out with this event, I was thrilled and honored to have her co-chair the event. This event was particularly meaningful for us because it was a shopping night at Jessie James Boutique, a shop we’d discovered together 5 years ago and visited ever since. Thanks to Jess’s planning, everyone had a wonderful time, and we raised $1,200 for Harboring Hearts. But I was especially touched by how Jess went above and beyond to make sure that the evening was special. She got cupcakes donated for the event, she made gift bags for the participants, and she even paid for heart-shaped soaps out of her own money. Jess had a lot going on at the time—she was applying to grad schools, she was preparing to leave her job, and she was dealing with all of the emotional ups and downs that come with the holidays. But she still took the time to give of herself to help friends and support a worthy cause.

The second experience was at Jess’s funeral. Like so many others, I was full of grief and confusion at having lost such a dear, wonderful friend. Jess and I had been roommates for three years at Georgetown, and we’d remained very close when we both moved to New York after graduation. After 10 years of being friends, it seemed impossible that she was gone. Among the others attending the wake and the funeral, I saw a former roommate of ours from Georgetown. We had not parted on the best of terms. But she was there at Jess’s wake, and when I saw her, all of those hard feelings melted away. I gave her a hug, and we were able to mourn together for the loss of a friend we’d both loved. This made me realize how much Jess had always taught me about loving, forgiving, and bringing people together. She was a connector. Whether it was connecting me with her group of friends in New York or bringing two estranged roommates together again after several years, Jess had a talent for making personal connections. In fact, she may have been so good at loving and giving that she never learned enough how to receive and replenish herself when she was feeling empty.

I miss you, Fash!

There are so many things that I miss about Fash. I’ll miss her hugs and smile, so full of warmth and love and support, even when she didn’t have words. I’ll miss how she was always there for me—even leaving work to bring me soup if I was feeling sick. I’ll miss her reminders that I should keep my receipts and her recommendations of Spanish authors to read. I’ll miss her commitment to social enterprise, and I’ll never forget how either she or her family members would attend every Harboring Hearts event that I put on. I’ll miss how she always had a funny story to tell. I’ll miss the on-going list of activities that we planned to do together, whether it was something small like getting corn muffins together in the Hampton’s or sitting by my fireplace and playing Apples to Apples, or something big like traveling to Greece. I’ll miss how much she wanted everyone to be happy.

Jessica, I love you and I miss you so much, and I’ll never stop learning from your example.