These words are what present-day Terry Johnson (’02) would tell college-age Terry, as he navigated his career path and ultimately discovered God’s calling on his life.
Terry knew he wanted to be involved in ministry so he transferred from Midland College to Abilene Christian University as a biblical text major. He switched to youth and family ministry and earned his bachelor’s degree in 2002. Terry knew he wanted to do advanced studies, but wasn’t sure which area he would pursue.
“I began to understand and discover that ministry in a broader context – like community organizing and community development – was increasingly interesting to me,” he said.
Dr. Bill Culp, director of the social work program at the time and now professor emeritus, became a mentor to him, and Terry “fell in love with the idea of running a nonprofit.” So in 2007, Terry earned his M.A. in Organizational Development with an emphasis on non-profit management. For the duration of his master’s work, Terry worked as the operations manager for a local non-profit, Community Action Program of Taylor County.
Terry could have been labeled an at-risk youth. At 16 years old, while still in high school, a youth minister entered his life. This minister helped him through community college and helped him get into ACU. When Terry got to ACU, he told himself, “If I graduate from here, I’m indebted to help others the way he helped me.”
Propelling these decisions was a promise Terry made to himself, one born of gratitude.
Terry could have been labeled an at-risk youth. At 16 years old, while still in high school, a youth minister entered his life. This minister helped him through community college and helped him get into ACU. When Terry got to Abilene Christian, he told himself, “If I graduate from here, I’m indebted to help others the way he helped me.”
During his undergraduate years, Terry was involved with the Students’ Association, the Black Student Association, then called Essence of Ebony, and student productions, among other activities. It was this work in particular that helped him realize he had serious skills in networking, raising money and building relationships. This was the catalyst for his interest in non-profits, and he began to envision ways he might positively affect communities.
After earning his master’s degree, Terry continued to work in Abilene nonprofits. He founded NEXT Ventures Inc. and developed an online game that would raise money for scholarships. The company was awarded a grant and operated independently for three years before merging with the non-profit Communities in Schools of the Big Country.
Terry was executive director at Communities in Schools until September 2017, when he and his family moved to Portland, Oregon, to join Open School NW. “I never thought I’d leave Abilene,” Terry said. He wasn’t searching for a new job, much less a new state. Open School was changing its model and looking for an executive director and found Terry on LinkedIn.
Open School’s proactive model in helping youth make decisions about their future impressed Terry. “It isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. It is culturally inclusive and responsive – deep intentional work to move students from being marginalized to motivating them forward to prepping for college,” he said.
The students he helps are “amazing kids who need something different than traditional school,” he explained. “We know which kids are most likely to drop out. We find them and surround them with what they need to graduate, go to college and succeed in life: academics, equity, and advocacy.” Helping these students brings Terry full circle in fulfilling the promise he made to himself, a source of great satisfaction to a man whose life path could have been far different.