Tucked away in the rolling hills of San Marcos a multimillion dollar construction expansion is underway. It’s called the Campus of Life and it will serve hundreds of San Diegans with special needs receiving services from a nonprofit organization called Training, Education, and Resource Institute, or TERI.
The number of families impacted by a developmental disability diagnosis is growing, along with need for resources and support. The CDC reports around 1 in 36 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
TERI, which has been serving the special-needs community since 1980, has more than 900 clients with a range of developmental and intellectual disabilities. The institute has owned the 20 acres in San Marcos for more than two decades but its vision for how to serve the educational, social, emotional and recreational needs of its clients is finally coming into focus.
The Therapeutic Equestrian Center was one of the first parts of the property to be developed in 2011. Natalie Hill, who is the director of the program, said each of TERI’s clients gets to spend time with the horses.
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“They work on their basic horsemanship skills, and we also provide vocational opportunities for our adult men," Hill said, "and then also an internship program that helps them to develop job skills so that they can go out and hopefully at some point get a job in the community somewhere.”
The Campus of Life also has farmland, a culinary kitchen and vocational training center that serves clients. A 208-seat theater and performing arts center is under construction, with plans to develop wellness and recreational facilities in the next several years.
TERI's chief development officer, Dan DeSaegher, said the expansion project will triple the number of people TERI serves.
“The goal here is not just for Terri to get bigger," DeSaegher said. "The goal here is that this will be a beacon for the region, and, actually, we have people that are coming to San Diego to learn best practices in special needs lifespan of care.”
The community also stands to benefit from the new development. TERI plans to share the new facilities with the community.
“San Marcos is going to love this,” DeSaegher said. “I believe that by integrating this campus, it's going to do a lot for the local residents. I know all of us know somebody, we have a family member or friend with special needs. That interaction opens up gifts that aren't typical.”
Derek Dohner is a TERI client with autism who has been receiving services from the nonprofit for four years. He said he’s grown personally from working with the horses and learning how to farm.
“I feel calmer than I was in high school,” Dohner said, adding that the environment gives him a new sense of peace and freedom. He said the experience has inspired dreams of one day owning his own farm.
Hill hopes that by opening up these new facilities to the public, it will foster opportunities for engagement and newfound appreciation for the clients TERI serves.
“Our population, they have their own unique skills and abilities and something to offer the world,” Hill said. “And if you just stop and take notice and, you know, acknowledge everybody's intrinsic worth and value, that's what we stand for.”
TERI has raised $26 million for the Campus of Life project; it needs another $24 million to see it to completion, which it hopes to accomplish by 2026.