As 2021 draws to a close, the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) will say goodbye to a valuable and beloved member of our team – Terri Handler. After more than a decade of working on ALS TDI’s development team to make sure the essential science we conduct in our lab remains well-funded, Terri is moving on to a much-deserved retirement.

Many of you reading this likely know Terri well. She has been a hard-to-miss presence at so many events and fundraisers, as well as providing support and encouragement to many people with ALS and their families in her role as a Development Director. Terri’s passion and advocacy came from a deep desire to help others who were facing ALS. It was an experience she could relate to, having a brother who was diagnosed with the disease in 2007.

“To be honest, I had no idea what ALS was at that time,” Terri remembers, “and he said that he only had two to four years to live. I didn't believe him directly because he was only 46 at the time. And then, three years and four months later, he did die from ALS.”

Terri joined ALS TDI back in 2011, after hearing about the organization from a friend and taking a tour of the lab – something she would go on to do for others countless times throughout her TDI career. She was immediately drawn to the organization because of the similarities between her story and that of ALS TDI’s founders.

“It was the story of Jamie and Ben trying everything to help their brother, Stephen, while he was living with ALS,” she says. “And that story just hit home with the way I felt about what I had seen with my brother.”

For the first few years Terri did whatever was needed to help ¬– odd jobs including calling donors to thank them personally and pitching in to help put on fundraising events. Eventually she became a Development Director, helping to engage donors and raising the funds necessary to keep our lab running. ALS TDI was also growing throughout this time ¬¬– adding more staff, more scientists and moving to new lab spaces twice.

“Now we have a full development team, lead management specialist, an events team, a donations team – not just one person,” she says. “We have many more researchers with a lot of robotic equipment. So, there's been a lot of changes.”

Over the years Terri says she’s enjoyed many memorable moments and accomplishments – including riding 62 miles of the Tri-State Trek one year, along with many donors who she helped to sign up for the ride. She’s also proud of the many people she’s met over the years as a Development Director, many of whom have now been supporters of ALS TDI’s research to end ALS for close to a decade. However, Terri says her most cherished memory from her time at ALS TDI is a deeply personal moment.

“Arthur Cohen had ALS and he lived in New Jersey. He came to the White Coat Affair in 2015, but he could not attend the following year, in 2016,” she remembers. “So, I had told them that I promise sometime in November, I would visit him in Orange, New Jersey, and we would dance because he loved music and he loved dancing in his wheelchair. And I remember that afternoon, Chris Curtin, who is a patient services coordinator was also with me and we turned on Earth Wind and Fire. The song was September, and we danced with Arthur in his living room, and we put on a lot more music and just had an amazing afternoon together. And then he passed the following year.”

Although Terri’s time with ALS TDI is coming to a close, her work to help people and make the world a better place will continue, even in retirement. She is currently working toward renewing her Massachusetts teaching certificate – something that will come in handy in her next venture.

“I decided a number of weeks ago I will volunteer to teach English as a second language to new refugees in Massachusetts,” she says. “And in the meantime, since I love languages, maybe I can learn some new phrases in Pashto, and I hope to hang out with my grandbabies and maybe do some more traveling.”

Despite that fact that we’ll no longer see her every day in the lab or on Zoom, Terri’s contribution to ALS TDI’s mission will be lasting. And, for her part, she’s confident that she’s leaving ALS TDI in an excellent position, and with a bright future.

“I am so hopeful for today because the team that's now in place is the best,” she says. “With Fernando Vieira [ALS TDI’s CEO] steering the ship, I believe that we will see a lot of amazing things coming out of TDI within the next couple of years and they will continue making a difference in their preclinical work.”

To learn more about ALS TDI’s research to end ALS, and how you can help support it, click here.