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TERI was born out of a life-changing event experienced by our founder Cheryl Kilmer while at the University of Michigan in 1970. Her first psychology class involved a practicum at the state hospital ward for children with disabilities. What she found was horrifying – children were being warehoused, neglected, and forgotten. She was assigned to one such child, a five-year-old girl named Yvette Champagne, who sat motionless all day in a wooden wheelchair with no physical stimulation, no way to build social skills, and no hope. She had multiple diagnoses including quadriplegia, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and was nonverbal. And in addition, Cheryl couldn’t help but notice Yvette’s bald spot – a result of rubbing her head against the back of her wheelchair.

As Cheryl has stated when remembering that transformative experience, “The only beautiful thing about Yvette’s life was her name. I wasn’t able to save her, but I knew that, as a society we could do so much more for children like Yvette and others who live with disabilities.” And that was the beginning.

This observation had a profound effect and has inspired the vision and trajectory of Cheryl’s lifework. She vowed to create and implement a landmark approach to helping children who suffer disabilities along with mitigating the impact it has on their families.  She was determined to change the belief that children like Yvette were destined for dreadful institutions thought to be the best society and the medical community could provide.

After many years of working with disabled adults and children in a variety of organizations, Cheryl’s dream of a groundbreaking organization dedicated to elevating the quality of life for the disabled, was about to become a reality. In 1980, she established TERI (Training, Education, and Resource Institute) in Oceanside, CA.

Today, TERI is recognized as a model program throughout the world. It provides programs such as equine therapy, performing arts, agriculture, two non-public schools, resident homes and so much more.  And in support of its students becoming respected and valued members of the community, TERI’s occupational therapy programs provides critical training and skills development that give some a real future within society.  

The next chapter in The TERI Story is dedicated to our new TERI Campus of Life currently under construction in San Marcos, CA. This state-of-the-art facility is located on 20 acres of beautiful California countryside. It will allow us to open our doors to so many more children and adults who need our help. The Campus’s innovative programs and services will provide our students, their families, and the community with a remarkable facility second to none – an environment for learning, growing, achieving and experiencing joy.  Most important, it’s a dream that’s becoming a reality – built on love, compassion, fun, and hope!

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