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ETR Turns 40 Years Young

ETR Turns 40 Years Young

By Vignetta Charles, PhD | June 3, 2021
Chief Executive Officer, ETR

Milestone birthdays that are associated with middle age can also be associated with a youthful time of awakening. We can say the same about ETR: today, June 3rd, marks a significant day in ETR’s history as we celebrate our 40th anniversary as an organization! We are entering our middle age with the wisdom that comes from four decades, while also awakening a new phase for us with the excitement and curiosity and rapid change of adolescence. In celebration, we take time to reflect with some of our original founders on the past, present, and future of our commitment to advancing health equity.

ETR started with a bold vision in 1981

“We had a vision that we would train people to provide education so youth would make positive choices and their lives would be healthier and happier. They would feel better about themselves and more respectful of others. We wanted to understand and build connections and deepen learning. ” –Kay Todd, one of ETR’s founding staff trainers


“In 1981, the politics of the day was threatening to eliminate funding for a program which provided the family life education curriculum for California schools. A group led by Sandy Orwitz seized this challenge and took the bold step of starting a new non-profit and ETR was born. Family life education could take on a larger role of working in expanded ways to reduce the health risks of the youth of our country. As the choice of ETR’s name suggested, research would drive the development of both the education and training programs.” - Dr. Bob Keet, one of ETR’s founders


ETR has continued to build on that strong vision. We have extended and expanded our work that grew out of wanting to learn and do more to prevent teen pregnancy. We continue that work to this day. But now we also have products and services that span a 40 year history in addressing HIV, 30 years of promoting innovations in tobacco education, 30 years of working with schools on fostering health and wellness (including 25 years with ETR’s comprehensive K12 health education curriculum HealthSmart), 20 years of promoting equity in STEM education, and our recent work combining trauma-informed principles with youth-centered health design. Through leading edge and trusted strategies in education, training and research, we have always been, and continue to be, committed to advancing health equity.  

What do we wish for ETR for the next 40 years?

“If I had a wish for ETR’s future, it would be to continue with quality education through training and materials and keep the high standard and cutting edge in our research. And as ETR is doing now, speak out and take a stand about issues that impact all of us - quality health care and education, racial equality, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. It’s simple for me: care and respect for everyone will make this a better world. ETR is a model of what agencies can do to support this through their work." -Kay Todd, one of ETR’s founding trainers


Our vision for ETR’s future honors the strong legacy of the six founders. And the next 40 years will build on it to be an ETR that strengthens our commitment to equity, expands our innovations in youth engagement approaches, domestically and globally, deepens our community-centered research and evaluation approaches, fosters the development of leading-edge approaches in training and design, and develops science-based and skills-based materials to catapult progress toward a more equitable and inclusive world. All while being the best learning organization we can be—aspiring to be a place to work that centers healing, humility and vulnerability within all our institutional policies and practices.  

As we reflect on our 40th birthday, we celebrate and respect the wisdom of what we have experienced for four decades and move forward with those experiences informing a transformative future. We’re called to do this as a mission-driven organization that adapts to address the needs of an evolving world—and we have a lot of exciting living ahead of us!

Vignetta Charles, PhD, (she/her/hers) is Chief Executive Officer of ETR. Dr. Charles can be reached at

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