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VCIL Peer Advocate Counselor Doesn’t Know The Word ‘Can’t’

May 16, 2014

The Vermont Center for Independent Living has a new peer advocate counselor who brings a can-do attitude and abundant energy to the organization. Tyler Sweeten of Montpelier started work on April 7.

VCIL Executive Director Sarah Launderville said, “We are pleased that Tyler has joined our team. Her energetic attitude is fantastic. She joins a long line of excellent peer advocate counselors here at VCIL, and I know she is up for the challenge of working together to promote equality for people with disabilities in central Vermont.”

Like most of VCIL’s employees, Tyler has firsthand experience with disability. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 2.

Tyler remembers, “They basically told Mom they didn’t know how bad it was, to not expect a lot, just keep your options open basically.”

However, Tyler’s parents, Susan McNulla of Vergennes and Ron Sweeten of Bristol, taught her to keep “can’t” out of her vocabulary. Tyler took this to heart and displayed determination and tenacity from a very young age. As a kindergarten student, she wistfully watched other children on the playground making their way across the monkey bars.

Tyler said, “I told my mom one day I made up my mind at recess that I was going to cross the monkey bars. She kind of gave me this quizzical look, like ‘oh no, what do I say if she doesn’t do it? I don’t want to discourage her.’”

Before school, during recess and after school, Tyler tirelessly practiced making her way across the monkey bars, grasping one rung after another. She would invariably make her way partway across, fall then pick herself up and get back in line to try again. She practiced every day for at least a couple of months, trying to figure out how to swing her body and grip the bars in a strategic fashion so that she could actually get across.

Tyler remembers, “One day I finally did it. I finally, finally did it.” She couldn’t wait to show her mom when she picked her up from school that day. As her mom watched, Tyler got to the second-from-the-end rung and fell.

“I said, don’t worry, Mom. I can do it, I can do it! I got back in line, and it was my turn, and I finally made it across. And she just burst into tears.”

From that moment on, Tyler said, her mom never questioned that she could do anything she put her mind to.

“I was so overjoyed for her and so proud of her,” said Susan. “That made me see what type of person she was going to grow up to be.”

Tyler went on to — you name it — tie her shoes, learn to swim, ride a bike, play the violin and more.

“My parents raised me as there’s nothing wrong with you. Yes, you have a disability, but that doesn’t really make you any different than anyone else. I was very lucky and fortunate to the have the parents that I did.”

Susan said, “There were two ways she could have gone. She could wear (her disabilities) like a badge or she could be embarrassed by them. She was never embarrassed by them.”

Tyler was born at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington and grew up in Chittenden County. She graduated from Colchester High School in 2004 and in June will graduate from Community College of Vermont with an associate degree in human services.

She was drawn to her position at VCIL because she wanted to work with people in a peer-based setting, to work to empower people with disabilities, encourage them and help them live the life that they want to.

Susan said that her daughter will bring empathy, hard work, a sense of humor and a great sense of fairness and justice not only for herself but for other people to the position.

Tyler’s supervisor, VCIL Direct Services Coordinator Denise Bailey, said, “When Tyler interviewed for the peer advocate position in the Montpelier office, I knew I wanted her on our team before the interview was even over. Her bright, perceptive nature is highly compatible with peer-to-peer work. Since she has come on-board, she has demonstrated great passion for the work we do in the independent living movement: Tyler readily connects with our peers, pays close attention to detail and keeps the big picture in mind in terms of disability rights.”

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Fun facts about Tyler:

  • She lives in Montpelier and has three dogs—a Chihuahua named Rosie, a black Lab named Shadow and a Staffordshire terrier named Savannah.
  • Her favorite television show is “Game of Thrones.”
  • Her favorite foods are steak, potatoes and pasta.