Ted Merchant is a recognized pioneer in the new field of residential care for adults with special needs. It’s a passion that blossomed out of his personal awareness of the lack of integrated, residential services for adults who have autism or other developmental differences.
“I know it’s possible to create communities of care and support for this population. They deserve to live their fullest and most independent lives, with respect and dignity,” Ted explains.
Ted followed his heart into this ground-breaking field after a fulfilling career in obstetrics and gynecology in Pasadena, and a clinical professorship at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine.
“Our first residential care project is in Poway, near San Diego. We got a tax credit allocation from California worth $19 million. Now we’re working all-out on design, real estate contracts, business plans, financial projections, and partnership agreements. It’s a huge undertaking!”
The work is complex and innovative, with all the intricacies you’d imagine of a public-private partnership that is financed by the government and available to the public. Ted is motivated by the promise of proving what can be done, and more practically, by the opportunity to create integrated housing and services for 53 adult tenants who will reside in the housing complex.
“The learning curve has just been fantastic,” Ted enthuses. “I spent 40 years being a physician, but that’s a solo business. This requires putting a team together, working across government, companies and across institutions. Understanding finance, legalities, and especially having empathy for the needs of each of our partners.”
And because there’s no proven blueprint for this undertaking, Ted embraces the risk involved. “We can’t be afraid of failure or intimidated by failure. We learn far more from our failures than our successes. You have to have a lot of balls up in the air in a project of this magnitude and complexity. Failures are a normal part of the process.”
“This has been absolutely fascinating,” Ted says. “Being able to keep growing, and also to give – we’re not going to take it with us!”
Ted is reflective in sharing his wisdom with Chandler students. “Know who you are, and go for it,” he urges the young generation. “Don’t be intimidated by the risk of failure. Welcome it, grow with it!”
Ted’s memories of Chandler School still have a special place in his heart. “Tom Chandler was an icon in my life, because he truly cared about me. He demonstrated his concern through concrete action. He brought me into his office to help me sort through my thoughts. He sat on the bench with us boys during football games, and we felt like he really cared about us kids.”
Ted chuckles when asked about winning Chandler’s Distinguished Alumni Award. “You do wonder sometimes if you’re making a difference as you go along doing all this work, and it’s nice to realize in receiving this award that, at least from someone’s perspective, you’ve made an impact.”