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April 15, 2019

Hightower Siblings’ Love of Music Reaches Special Needs Community in California

The John K. Hightower Memorial Fund recently granted $1,000 to TERI, Inc., a San Diego-based nonprofit agency serving the needs of children and adults with autism and other developmental and learning disabilities, and their families. The grant provided the remaining funds needed for the production of a CD featuring special needs artists served by TERI, Inc.

The recent grant was celebrated at a CD release party held at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California. The TERI Band CD will be used to promote the Music Department and the talents that live within the walls of the special needs music room at TERI. The grant is a fitting tribute to Effingham, Illinois natives and siblings John Hightower and Lisa Hightower-Kibbe, who shared a strong connection with their own individual ability to enrich people’s lives through their unique talents and love of music.

John Hightower, a graduate of St. Anthony High School, was a familiar face in most of his grade school and high school musicals and community theatre. One of his favorite activities was volunteering at special needs camps in the summer. Hightower graduated from Eastern Illinois University and obtained his Masters in Performing Arts from University of Illinois. He was an accomplished pianist and continued his musical and theatre career in Chicago until his death in 1995. After John’s death, his family established the John K. Hightower Memorial Fund at Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation. Lois Jones, mother of John and Lisa, recommends grants from the fund.

Lisa Hightower-Kibbe, graduated from Effingham High School in 1981. She spent eight years on the road singing with an all-girl rock band called Rare Illusion before moving to San Diego in 1989 where she continues to teach private piano and voice lessons. Lisa is also a Jazz vocalist and performs all over San Diego County.

In 2013, Hightower-Kibbe joined the staff at TERI, Inc. as the Director of Music. Lisa can bring out everything inside of the most nonverbal clients. She treats them as peers, not as disabled.

The TERI music room is the most joyful room on campus because everyone, regardless of talent or aptitude, gets to make a joyful noise that is all their own into the microphone and experience a big round of applause. Lisa has discovered many of her clients have a remarkable talent for music either playing songs on the piano they learned at an early age or a lovely singing voice and the ability to learn songs.

Lisa has learned so much about her precious clients, including how fragile they can be. What they know today could be gone tomorrow. This realization was what sparked the idea to produce a CD that would preserve these special moments of music, in case they are lost forever.

Having lost her own brother with a remarkable musical personality, Hightower-Kibbe didn’t want to regret never being able to hear these special voices again. At the end of the recording, editing and mastering process, the project was still short of its goal – the money needed for duplication. A gift of $1,000 from the John K. Hightower Memorial Fund was a perfect fit knowing how proud John would be to provide the necessary funding to complete this project. This gift was the final push that made the recording a reality.

“The beautiful recording captures a moment in time – the moment that a silent autistic man’s soaring voice belts out Andrew Lloyd Webber. The moment a fragile young lady hears herself recorded and is amazed and empowered to continue to explore and develop her voice. The moment the young autistic man with perfect pitch and seizures hears his own voice and smiles. It’s good. He knows it,” shares Hightower-Kibbe. She continues, “We are all fragile. Our bodies are fragile. But what we have right now is precious and, if it can be captured by any means possible, it is worth memorializing. How many of us long to hear a loved one’s voice just one more time? The combined talent, time and financial generosity of those who came together on this project have ensured that these voices will be heard always.”

The John K. Hightower Memorial Fund is a fund of Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation. For more information, contact Amanda Lessley, President/CEO, at 217.342.4988 or

TERI specializes in serving individuals who have needs which cannot be met by other existing programs. This includes services to persons who have autism, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, brain trauma, severe behavioral disorders, dual diagnoses, and learning disabilities. As a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) California Corporation, the agency relies on donations from the community and foundations in order to continue to set the highest standards and ensure an uncompromised quality of life to this population. Based in San Diego, California, TERI has grown to serve over 850 children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families; and employs 500+ professional and paraprofessional staff.

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