Building a Village
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 granted.”
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 education centers.
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.