These alumni use their life experiences to help others as leaders of non-profits.
How do people find their calling — their passion to serve? For these alumni, some of it came from personal challenges and pain. With insight, support, and experiences from Otterbein, they found themselves and the inspiration to help others.
Please note: This story includes content related to suicide and self-harm.
Tyler TerMeer ’05
“One of the things I have learned over time is that you only have control over so much. Every decision you make in life should come from your authentic self,” said Tyler TerMeer ’05, CEO of the Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) in Portland, OR.
Growing up, TerMeer struggled to understand his racial identity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. His journey to becoming his most authentic self began at Otterbein University.
As a theatre design and technology major, TerMeer once dreamed of becoming a production stage manager. During his senior year his life took a new direction when, at the age of 21, he was diagnosed with HIV.
This diagnosis would not stop his ambitions, but it did shift his focus — it was important to continue to live life as a strong and inspiring openly gay man of color and a powerful voice in advocating HIV policy.
“When I learned of my HIV diagnosis, I did not know what my future would be. The people around me taught me that I was going to live and empowered me to be the best version of myself,” TerMeer said.
Soon after graduating, a unique opportunity came along to start a small retail clothing business, which he ran for six years before taking his career in a new direction. After receiving support and services from a local HIV organization, he decided to put his efforts into helping “those living with HIV have the best chance at living and thriving with their disease.”
Over the next several years, he worked for HIV-focused non-profits in Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and finally Portland, OR, where he leads CAP.
“I saw this amazingly progressive, well-respected non-profit that had so much potential. I had seen an amazing transformation beginning to happen in Portland and I wanted to be a part of it,” said TerMeer.
CAP provides compassionate and inclusive health and wellness services to the LGBTQ+ community, those affected by HIV, and others. Recently, CAP opened the PRISM Health clinic.
“This new healthcare experience was designed for and by queer people to be a resource that is life-affirming and life-changing for LGBTQ+ people,” said TerMeer.
In recognition of his many contributions to the community and those around him, TerMeer was recently named the 2021 Executive of the Year by the Portland Business Journal.
“Life throws curveballs both good and bad,” said TerMeer. “It’s up to us to be open to a new unexpected journey.”
Amber Horton ’16
When the virtual meeting starts, the two 10th-grade football players aren’t saying much, but the meeting leader, Amber Horton ’16, keeps trying to connect with them as they work on their art project about Black History Month.
“Where are we with cutting out our letters?” asks Horton. “I’m on ‘C,’” responds the one student with his video on. After an excruciating pause, a shy student puts in the chat, “‘A.’”
Horton knows how tough it is for teens, especially those who struggle with mental health issues, to express themselves. That is why she wanted to create an outlet for students and co-founded findingBLANK in 2017 in Cleveland with her mother, Debbie. Along with several volunteers, she plans and administers after-school and pop-up programs for grades K-12.
Her awareness for this issue grew from a painful place back in high school with a friend who spread lies about her. Once a social butterfly, Horton would walk into empty classrooms, early for every class because no one would talk to her.
“I felt like no one would miss me. I took a handful of pills, and I thought that would have ended it all,” said Horton.
Fortunately, Horton’s mother found her and took her to the emergency room. A psychiatric hospitalization became the turning point in Horton’s life.
She graduated from high school and enrolled at Otterbein, where she majored in sociology with minors in psychology and anthropology. A life-changing study abroad trip made her decide to start her own non-profit, findingBLANK, after she graduated.
“I feel like if I can give teens the tools to express themselves … through writing poetry, or journaling, or painting, or creating music, or dance movements,” said Horton, “that’s a way for them to not only express themselves, but also connect to other people to combat a lot of the issues that they’re going through.”
“It’s relaxing,” says a boy as he glues letters to a poster board. He’s soon telling Horton he has a job at a restaurant, he plays football, he’s curious about why slavery started in the first place, and that George Floyd’s death made him afraid of the police.
The student holds up his finished art. Yellow letters spelling “Black” are dotted with small, cut-out pictures. Pieces of paper with “BLM” and “We want peace” stand out in greens and yellows against the black poster board.
He says, “I’m going to hang this in my room.”
Catie Duzzny ’21 graduated from Otterbein with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in business administration in Otterbein’s Graduate School.
Julia Grimm ’22 is a double major in public relations and journalism and media communication. She is an active member of Otterbein’s PRSSA chapter and is editor-in-chief of T&C Magazine.