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Central California Life Magazine

No Limits, Only Opportunity at Fresno's Break the Barriers

Sep 26, 2016 12:47PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

Break the Barriers' International Outreach Team

There is a lot of stigma surrounding the word "disability." Despite the fact that this represents so many facets of being a human being, it is still a word that can make some uncomfortable. 

In Fresno, 
Break the Barriers, Inc. is an organization that is working tirelessly to remove this unnecessary stigma and create a nurturing environment where anyone can grow. They provide classes of all genres for anyone that would like to attend. 

At Break the Barriers there are no limits, only opportunity. 

We were able to get in touch with Terra Lynch, an integral member of Break the Barriers' Marketing & Social Media Team, to learn more about this inspiring organization.


Tell us a little bit about the creation of Break the Barriers. How did it get started?

Break the Barriers, Inc. is a Fresno 501 c (3) non-profit organization, founded in 1983 by Steve and Deby Hergenrader. Steve played baseball for the New York Yankees, while Deby was a nationally ranked gymnast. Deby’s sister Kathy, who had Down syndrome, was not allowed to participate in the same activities as Deby early in her life because of the stigma surrounding "disability."  When people met the two sisters, they would approach Deby saying, “Your sister is so cute! Isn’t there a special place for people like that?”

Confronted with questions like this, Deby saw the opportunity to create a community for herself, her sister, and others in the area—a community that brought people together instead of partitioning them. In order to provide opportunities for Kathy to become involved in gymnastics and to excel, Steve and Deby started the Tri-City Olympiads and Fresno District Special Olympics Gymnastic Program. Kathy continued on to be a Special Olympics Champion, and a concept of training was birthed.

The Hergenraders started the gymnastics program in their backyard; today, programs primarily take place in Break the Barriers’ 39,000 square-foot Ability Center in Fresno. 

The Barrier Breakers Performing at LA Lakers Game

Break the Barriers (BTB) maintains the founding principle of providing children and families of all abilities within the Central Valley with opportunities to grow and develop through a wide range of athletic and adaptive sports programs, music and art programs, reading and signing programs, and Paralympic and Olympic caliber training. People of all ability levels participate in all programs—this is what makes Break the Barriers unique. 

Break the Barriers runs high-quality daytime and after-school fitness and wellness programs, supporting schools and benefiting nearly 3,000 participants weekly and 17,000 individuals annually. We serve inner-city youth and families in after-school programs in the school settings, or by transporting children that are underserved or who have intellectual or physical disabilities to the Ability Center.

What is your role at BTB and how long have you been there?

My name is Terra Lynch. In 2012, I graduated from California State University, Fresno with a bachelor’s degree in recreation administration (with an emphasis in serving youth and community).

I have many roles at Break the Barriers as Director of Sign Language and am an integral member of our Marketing & Social Media Team. I am also a part of our International Outreach Team. We are global ambassadors who promote inclusion around the world, and we have reached millions during my years on the team.

Behind everybody there is a story, a story of struggle; mine is that of being born with cerebral palsy. When I was a youngster, my parents searched for activities that I could be involved in and enjoy. Growing up, I was involved with extracurricular activities but I hadn't found my passion. Then a friend recommended Break the Barriers, and I discovered that was my passion. I’ve been hooked ever since—25 years.


What is the ultimate goal of BTB?

Aerial Dance Fitness

Disability begins to fade away at Break the Barriers. What remains is seeing and appreciating individuals for who they are. We all have ability and disability, because we all have things at which we fall short. All BTB classes are inclusive of people of all abilities—where children (and adults) can learn the benefits of ability, awareness and education. 

The programs we offer attests to our eagerness to support our community in any way we can. Each year thousands of disadvantaged youth receive scholarships to learn, play, and get excited about life here at that Ability Center. We level the playing field for everyone from toddlers to seniors of all abilities through free classes: dance, gymnastics, aquatics, martial arts, mentoring and literacy.  

Additionally, this year 411 Veterans are receiving free services at the Ability Center in thanks for their service to our country. This program has had a growth rate of more than 100% in each of the past three years. Veterans are the primary referral source to our HOPE Program. When Veterans have exhausted therapy services at the local Veterans Administration Hospital, VA therapists refer them for our HOPE program and fitness training opportunities. 

Break the Barriers is in its 32nd year of working with Children's Hospital , Fresno Community Hospital, California State University FresnoSan Joaquin Valley Rehab, Veterans Administration Hospital, Central California Health Care SystemsFresno County Office of Education, Fresno Unified School District, and Clovis Unified School District, opening up exercise and specialized classes each week for several hundred people that have varying degrees of paralysis. 


What is something we, as readers, absolutely need to know about Break the Barriers? 

Break the Barriers was named the "National Role model for Inclusion" by the USA Department of Education.

It is a common misconception that Break the Barrier’s caters to those who experience disability. At Break the Barriers, we use the term “various abilities” because we focus on enhancing the gifts and abilities of all people and are wary of imposing the label of disability on anyone. Classes meet the needs of people of all ages and all ability levels! We are so much more than a “disability center” or a “gymnastics facility.” People that become part of BTB are not only learning how to do a cartwheel; they are learning from one another and developing community. 

Classes are fun, but more importantly, they help students develop lifelong physical abilities, social skills, moral values, and an appreciation to care for their health. This all takes place in a caring and encouraging environment. Students can hold onto and apply what they learn at BTB wherever they go. 

Are there any upcoming events we should know about?  

October 21st: Masquerade Ball: Jubilee to Benefit Break the Barriers. We will be honoring 2016 Gala Ambassador Al Perry and local Veterans at Copper River Country Club from 6:00pm-9:30pm

Tickets are available by calling 559-432-6292.

Masquerade Ball Jubilee to benefit Break the Barriers - start Sep 21 2016 0600PM

Masquerade Ball: Jubilee to Benefit Break the Barriers

Oct 21, 2016 6:00PM

Masquerade Ball honoring Al Perry and veterans, featuring performances & festivities begin on the verandas. Enjoy hors d'evres reception & silent auction offerings. Grand Ballroom... Read More » 


The entire International Team (traveling to Philippines)

November 18th-December 2nd: 

Our international outreach team—The Barrier Breakers—will travel to the Philippines to perform and share Ability Awareness, Outreach, and Education. 

In 2005 the Barrier Breakers began spreading the message of inclusion to countries far from home: Romania, China, South Africa, Dominican Republic, India, Australia, and Peru. The results of this outreach have been remarkable. 

The impact and success of our mission is evidenced by the overwhelming number of requests for performances throughout the United States and around the globe.


December 9th (7pm) and December 10th (2pm & 5pm): Break the Barriers’ Performing Arts Department invites the public to their production of Excerpts from the Nutcracker at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre. 

Presale tickets: $10.00 or $15.00 CASH at the door.

Excerpts from the Nutcracker - start Dec 09 2016 0700PM

Excerpts from the Nutcracker

Dec 9, 2016 7:00PM

Break the Barriers’ Performing Arts Department invites the public to their production of the Nutcracker at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre. Presale tickets: $10.00 or $15.00 CASH at the ... Read More » 


How can someone get involved?  

Contact Break the Barriers at 559-432-6292, or check us out on social media (FacebookInstagramTwitter, and YouTube) or visit our website. These outlets can give more insight about our programs.


How can someone find out about volunteering?

Reading Lab

Volunteering opportunities are available in any program. Our mentoring program, Santi’s Kids, reaches out to underserved children from impoverished neighborhoods. Youngsters are finding their passion and learning new skills through a cool literacy program.  

In 2006, BTB began their mission to reach out and mentor inner-city children whose parents were incarcerated. Our goal is to help kids to dream outside of their circumstances and to meet a friendly mentor to add positive structure to their lives. 

Students are able to participate in our reading lab, sign language class, math tutoring, gymnastics, swimming, taekwondo, archery, fishing, hiking, camping, and educational field trips year round.  

For more information about Break the Barriers, you can contact them at 559-432-6292, check them out on social media (FacebookInstagramTwitter, and YouTube) or visit their website.