Photo by Tessa Marie Images.
Founder and president, Theraplay, Inc.
Lisa Mackell began doodling Theraplay’s logo back in the late 1980s, before the general public had ever heard of the autism spectrum, motor apraxia, or any of the other disorders that are now common diagnoses. At the time, she was pursuing her master’s in pediatric physical therapy, and she had no idea there would be such a widespread demand for her specialty. “I only knew that kids would benefit from having therapy centers customized to target their needs,” she says. “Speech, occupational, physical therapy—kids need all of those treatments, delivered by pediatric specialists.”
Mackell started Theraplay out of a spare bedroom in 1991. Five years later, she opened her first center in a converted Malvern elementary school, using $10,000 of her own money. By 2000, she had a larger location in Horsham. Mackell was off and running—to the point where National Penn Bank gave her a full scholarship for a fast-track mini-MBA program at West Chester University.
As the company expanded, Mackell learned several lessons. Among them: Hire the best employees, even if they’re moms who need flexible schedules. In 2002, her husband, Steve, left his long-time job at NovaCare to join Theraplay full time. Together, they’ve opened five more centers, relocating some to larger spaces to meet demand. And that’s the footnote to Theraplay’s success. “There are so many kids who are diagnosed with so many disorders,” Mackell says. “I’m glad we exist to help them, but I’m sorry that they need the help in the first place.”