Look at Tyler Kowald and you see a handsome, young man with a charming smile and warm, friendly eyes, characteristics that make him a very popular student at Center for Higher Independence (CHI) where young adults with disabilities learn the life and vocational skills to live independently.
His outlook on life and engaging personality truly set him apart. Fellow student Sarah Land described him warmly: “I’ve only been here a month and from day one, Tyler was the one person I could constantly count on to brighten my day.”
Life hasn’t been without its challenges for the 20-year-old. At 10 months, he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a severe disability affecting his speech and balance. “Growing up, my balance was very bad. I fell a lot and had stitches in my chin and head.” Although improved with the help of a therapist, his speech was also very hard to understand and he was ridiculed in high school.
While the students’ ugliness didn’t faze him much because of his optimistic spirit, it hurt his feelings at times.
“In high school sometimes people would joke around about my balance and the way I talked,” he said. “And that would make me mad.”
He also found it wasn’t just his peers who were uncomfortable with his disability; adults were also unsure how to react. His manager at a part-time job in high school made it clear Tyler was not wanted as an employee.
“He would never talk to me and I would never get any hours. He didn’t like Special Ed kids so I didn’t last long with that job, he said. “I was disappointed because I really liked it.”
It’s hard to believe that Tyler talks about his past with a huge smile on his face, but he credits the friendships he has built on the CHI campus as the reason he has been able to let go of the negativity.
When he began the CHI program in the fall of 2010, he immediately loved it.
“I came to CHI because my parents were doing a lot of things for me and I wanted to learn how to be independent.”
With less than three months left, Tyler has taken most of the required classes, expanding his knowledge on living a more independent life, including learning to cook and to ride the bus around town without getting lost, abilities that will be invaluable to him later. He recognizes especially how CHI has helped him improve his writing skills and know-how about applying for a job.
With hands-on job training at the work training center on campus, Tyler has learned the discipline and behavior expected for any type of job.
“I’m so glad I learned how to apply for a job on my own,” a smiling Tyler noted. “I can start making my own money and I can move into my own apartment when I’m ready.”
Working closely with his job coach, Tyler is looking for job opportunities and practicing interviewing skills. He currently volunteers at the YMCA, helping to clean the facilities and is considering applying there this summer.
“I think it would be really cool to work there because I feel like I help people when I volunteer,” he said.
After Tyler graduates from CHI in June, he plans to stay a while in the Oasis Home, a new transitional group home for graduates of the program who, because of the challenges of their disabilities, may need additional vocational training.
“I definitely don’t mind staying on campus for a little while longer after I graduate, but when I do move back to Dallas I will miss everyone here,” he said. “I’m inspired to do my best with everything I’ve learned.”