Theresa Richter is a founding staff member of The Joshua School. Along with her coworkers, they left the public school system and founded TJS in 2005. She's spent her career helping build TJS into what it is today- a place where all students can thrive. Theresa has taken on several roles during her tenure at TJS, the last of which was part of the Human Resources team. She recently retired in January 2022.
With Joshie's Day approaching, we were able to gain insight from this TJS founder about her experience- why she and the other founders started TJS, her hopes for the future of the school, and her favorite memories.
TJS: What brought you to TJS?
Theresa: I was working for DPS in a self-contained autism classroom in the late 1990's, when autism was beginning to be diagnosed. I worked with 5 other amazing people, Jason Gruhl, Irene Bonilla, Patrice Wiley, Katharine Barnes and Andrea Bonilla, and we had always talked about the benefits to students and staff of opening a school where individualized programs would be available for every student, and would provide naturalistic teaching in the community. On March 3, 2003, Joshua Hailey, one of our [Denver Public Schools] students died at home from heart failure just months before his 9th birthday. It was devastating, and it solidified our commitment to open a school where every moment mattered. The Joshua School opened on October 5, 2005, with one student and 3 staff members, and has now grown to 4 campuses!! I am most proud that Joshua Hailey lives on through the students and staff at TJS!
TJS: What is your favorite memory or memories at TJS?
Theresa: There are way too many favorite memories over the course of almost 20 years, but I think the heart and soul of working with the other founders to get this place opened is way up there. We did everything ourselves from day one- a garage sale to pay for our non-profit license - Katharine's parents donated most of the items and then bought them back, our first Harvest Festival fundraiser and our many April galas that we all put together ourselves. I loved the hallway celebrations we had when our students achieved a "first" or mastered a goal. Cheering would ensue throughout the school! I loved our after school events with staff- kickball in the backyard with giant therapy balls, the TJS versions of Amazing Race, welcome parties for new staff and thoughtful, sentimental going away parties for staff who decided to move on to new careers.
TJS: What will you take away from your time at TJS?
Theresa: There are incredible people in this world! I have learned so much from the kids and families who came into my life at TJS. I have learned so much from the talented staff who made their way to TJS and who changed the course of education for so many students and families! I am taking gratitude with me.
TJS: What are your hopes for TJS for the future?
Theresa: Keep the mission of the school at the forefront of every decision made - The Joshua School is committed to helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities attain the highest quality of life, valuing each unique mind, body and spirit. Take good care of the front line.
TJS: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Theresa: I would like to honor my husband, Gary Richter, who recognized my passion and gave so much of himself and his time to make sure that TJS became a reality. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to have worked with the students, families and staff at The Joshua School.
Theresa spent her career dedicated to the students at TJS and our community is forever grateful.