Local occupational therapist has dedicated her life's work to children
with special needs.
Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick | Photographed by Philicia Endelman
Terri Nishimura says she’s a dreamer. She’s also a CEO, occupational
therapist, leader, wife, mother and activist.
In 1996, Terri and three other occupational therapists created a nonprofit
clinic offering speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy
for children with special needs and medical issues.
Pediatric Therapy Network (PTN) started out in one room. Now it fills several
buildings in Torrance and Long Beach. PTN also runs an Early Head Start program.
Her partners moved on, but Terri and her team continue to provide innovative
therapies and early education programs. The clinic is known internationally
for its use of sensory integration approaches. It has changed the lives
of thousands and is merging with Momentum, formerly United Cerebral Palsy
of Los Angeles.
Jennifer Lewis is a PTN parent who says her son has blossomed because of
the program. She says Terri is the person who has made it all possible.
“To see her walking the halls of PTN—popping her head into
different therapies as she goes—is to see a proud parent,”
Jennifer says. “The pride exudes from her as she watches children
meet and beat milestones. She has been there as countless children have
taken their first steps, spoken their first words and made a friend for
the first time. I do not know where we would be without Terri.”
While everyone around her says she’s the energy and inspiration behind
PTN’s success, Terri is not eager to take credit. She reserves praise
for her staff, board, donors, elected officials, volunteers, her sons
and husband Scott. Still, she is proud she has made a difference for many
children and their families.
“It takes a village. The PTN success, the magic, is all the staff
who have come and gone and all the children and families who have gone
through our doors. Everybody has made a mark,” she says. “At
the end of the day, I am humbled by the children we provide services for.
They are working so hard to do everyday things the rest of us take for
Jennifer says what Terri has created is more than just an office, a successful
nonprofit or a therapy center. “What she has really done is create
a family—a support structure for those who need it the most, a network
of the most skilled therapists in their fields with one singular goal
in mind: to serve the child.”
PTN faced what seemed like an insurmountable challenge in 2020 when the
pandemic began. The organization changed its delivery of service within
a week, and 2,500 children went from in-person therapy to remote. The
staff of almost 200 adjusted to the online format using telehealth and
by creating therapy videos they shared online. They even heard from a
therapist in Germany who was using the videos with his patients there.
Terri will retire at the end of 2021 but anticipates she will still work
as an advocate for children with special needs. And she has always wanted
to train a facility dog to visit hospitals and other health and early
In July 2021, PTN and Momentum came together to provide lifespan services
for individuals with special needs and their families. Momentum president
and CEO Lori Anderson says the merger is an incredible opportunity. “I
think we were fortunate we connected with an agency that shares our same
values, passion and commitment. Quality of care is at the heart of everything
we do. There’s nothing more important to us."
Terri's heart and soul are very apparent throughout the organization,”
says Nancy Arter, PTN board chair. “As her parting gift, she has
worked with the PTN board to expand these amazing therapies to all people
with disabilities through the partnership with our new organization.