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Retired CEO parlays caring career into new leadership roles

Terry Perl

Terry Allen Perl started his career in 1969 operating summer camps and day programs for the physically and mentally challenged. The Baltimore native joined Chimes International, a multi-service agency for the disabled, as its first residential director in 1971. His four-decade career at Chimes, he says, helped define his life.

As of Jan. 1, Perl officially retired in Tucson with his wife, Martha Loveman Perl. The couple had bought a second home here in 1994. Although Perl will no longer be CEO and president of Chimes International, his advocacy for people with disabilities will not end.

“His professional expertise combined with his caring make him a fantastic addition to our Jewish community,” says Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, who notes that Perl “jumped right in” to community involvement here.

Around three years ago, says Perl, “I went to Stu Mellan and told him I wanted to get involved in activities benefiting seniors and people with disabilities.”

Since then he’s served as a board member of Jewish Family & Children’s Services, and is currently chair of JFSA’s Senior Task Force, which recently created the Jewish Elder Access program. Perl is also vice chair of Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging and serves on the Federation’s executive committee.

Perl has been a trustee of the Tucson-based CARF International, an independent accreditor of health and human services, since 1986. He regularly traveled here for board meetings prior to his retirement from Chimes.

During his 40 years at Chimes, Perl witnessed changes in important federal laws and societal views of the disabled. Parents of people who were “moderately mentally retarded” founded the organization in 1947, seeking an educational alternative for their children, says Perl. “‘Opportunity classes’ that didn’t provide much of an opportunity” existed way before any possibility of the mainstreaming that public education provides now, he explains. “There were no alternatives of any kind mandated by law” until the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed by Congress in 1975, says Perl, who holds a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology.

Chimes, which offered services to around 200 people when Perl started, now delivers educational, employment, residential and behavioral health programs to more than 17,000 individuals of varying abilities in six states, Washington, D.C. and Israel.

In 2009, Perl and Mellan traveled to Israel on a Federation mission that included a visit to a Chimes program in Tel Aviv.

“It was a loving and very progressive environment, not only caring for the mentally and physically challenged,” says Mellan, “but educating parents how to best interact with their children.”

“The development of services in Israel and the adaptation of the American services delivery model to the Israeli culture and system has been one of the highlights of my career,” says Perl. “The impact that we had in Israel was very significant, not only in serving hundreds of people, but also in changing the way the government of Israel valued and perceived people with disabilities.” Chimes Israel now operates day programs for adults and for infants with developmental disabilities in the Tel Aviv area, introduced vocational diagnostic programs, and has fostered legislation allowing people with mental retardation to live in group homes.

In the D.C. area, Chimes assists people in finding employment with the federal government. In his retirement, says Perl, “what I’ll miss most is working with people with disabilities,” such as JoAnne B., a Chimes program participant who has been employed cleaning the Library of Congress. “I was invited to her apartment with a film crew because she wanted to be part of the [Chimes] story” that was being documented, he told the AJP.

“She’s now able to live by herself, making over $14 an hour, with a retirement plan and health insurance. She used to work for minimum wage at a fast-food place.”

Perl has encouraged the addition of people with disabilities to the Chimes board of directors. “A [disabled] gentleman named Ed is a second generation board member who succeeded his father when he died,” notes Perl. “I’m 64 years old. Ed is my age and has been part of the Chimes Family of Services all his life. He went to a Chimes school program. He worked in a grocery store for 20 years. He now works two days a week and attends our senior opportunities program three days a week.”

When Ed’s parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, Perl was asked to give a toast. “I’ve gone through major life experiences with his family, the death of his parents and his sister,” says Perl. Now Ed’s nephew receives Chimes services, making three generations of personal relationships with Ed’s family, he notes. “It’s been a remarkable experience.”

A current goal Perl and his wife are pursuing is bringing to Tucson the Celebrate the Beat program, which teaches children inspirational music, dance and movement. “I’m trying to find a partner to secure funding to create this kind of opportunity in schools and at the JCC,” says Perl. If his previous accomplishments for people with disabilities are any indication, watch for Celebrate the Beat coming to Tucson.