Tyler posing wearing an UMSL shirt and mask

When Tyler’s family moved into the school district in 2013, his mom was worried about what her son’s after-school care would look like. She was working full-time and so was Tyler’s dad, leaving a gap from the time school ended until 5:30 or 6 every night. While other families could trust their children at home or sign them up for sports and other extracurriculars during that time, Tyler’s parents couldn’t. “We didn’t have that luxury. I needed to know that my son was safe after school and he wasn’t just sitting at home,” said Tonya Haynes, Tyler’s mom. “He wasn’t as independent then.” They even considered installing a high-tech camera system in their home and rallying the neighbors to keep Tyler safe.

Then they learned about Community Living’s SOAR program.

Tyler started participating in SOAR’s Teen Club after school. “Tyler just loved Teen Club. That was his life,” Tonya said. The family was impressed by the training level of Teen Club’s staff. They knew how to pick up on the strengths of each student and help them grow. Tyler participated in activities and went on outings that helped him communicate his wants, follow directions, interact with new people, and as he became more independent, he was able to support his peers.

He liked looking at the Teen Club calendar and planning for the upcoming events. He’d prepare by thinking about what he’d need to take, what time he’d need to be there and what time he’d be leaving. “He always remembered to tell us when he needed money,” Tonya joked.

Now, Tyler looks at a different calendar – the one in the student center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). He’s in his second year of UMSL SUCCEED, a two-year program designed for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program focuses on four pillars:

  • Live: SUCCEED offers a commuter option, or students can live on campus. Tyler lives in the dorms.
  • Learn: Students enroll in a mix of vocation-based courses and courses from the bulletin. He recently took Introduction to Sports Management and loved it.
  • Work: Tyler works in Guest Services at UMSL’s Student Recreation Center. He accesses the computer to check people in, does inventory, follows along with trainings, and greets people at the front desk.
  • Play: SUCCEED students are required to participate in a campus activity. Tyler plays on the Intramural Basketball Team and is the first SUCCEED student to be in Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity.

“Every interaction that he had with Community Living helped him prepare for the transition [to college].”

Tyler’s an ambassador for the school, always looking at the calendar for events to attend and invite other students to. In his freshman year, he attended all the Homecoming activities. By his sophomore year, he wanted to put his name in for Homecoming Court. He applied with support, was selected, and learned via Zoom that he was named UMSL 2021 Homecoming Royalty. His mom, who said he’s the first SUCCEED student to win Court, and the first student with Autism to be crowned Royalty. She also said the other students call him “Mr. UMSL” and that she has a new nickname, too – “Tyler’s Mom”. “Before, it was ‘Dr. Haynes’ or ‘Professor Haynes.’ Now it’s ‘That’s Tyler’s mom. She teaches in the College of Nursing.’” She even went to pick up her lunch from the dining hall one day and they had written “Tyler’s Mom” on the bag.

Tonya said she’s very proud of Tyler’s accomplishments and recent appointment to Royalty, and is grateful for her son’s time in Teen Club.  “Every interaction that he had with Community Living helped him prepare for the transition [to college].”

She wants other parents to know that, while it’s not for everyone, it’s possible. “They can go to college and have support and play basketball and work. The opportunities are endless,” she said.