2022 TNSTEP Advocate of the Year Winners Announced

2022 Advocate of the Year Winners image

TNSTEP is thrilled to announce Tamara Tuckson as one of our two “2022 Wayne Parker Advocate of the Year” recipients. Her advocacy journey started with her own daughter, but her determination, leadership, and willingness to educate quickly spilled over into her community where she has made an incredible impact. We’d like to you a little about her.

Tamara’s 19-year-old daughter, McKenzie, is diagnosed with Rett’s Syndrome. Children and adults with Rett Syndrome typically experience significant challenges, including the ability to breathe, eat, walk, and speak. Doctors told Tammy that McKenzie would not be able to communicate, understand, or follow simple directions.

Fortunately, that dire prognosis did not stop Tammy.

“Tammy decided not to give up,” said Karria James, who nominated Tammy for this award. “Instead, she developed a holistic community of support around her family. Wherever there was a gap, she found someone willing to learn how to close it.”

Today, McKenzie uses communication devices, successfully follows directions, feeds herself, and is physically active.

This success story took a great deal of time and perseverance. When McKenzie was assigned to a classroom with a teacher that didn’t have the necessary skills, Tamara helped that teacher get trained on her daughter’s needs. She applied the same effort to pediatricians, therapists, and pastors. Becoming an expert on Rett’s and recognizing the benefit of advocating for her child, Tamara began helping others advocate for their children, who were sometimes referred to her by the teachers, doctors, and therapists who had witnessed Tamara’s passion and determination.

“Tammy doesn’t need this award to do what she does,” said Karria. “Her family will continue to thrive, bringing their community along with them. Honoring her with this award would be a pat on her back, letting her know, ‘we see you, and we’re in this together.”

Tamara, you are an inspiration to us all and so deserving of this recognition. Congrats, and keep up the GREAT work!

Video of Tamara receiving this award at The Arc Tennessee‘s events banquet can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/pA_SH1EsGQ0

We are thrilled to announce LaShaunda Massey as one of our two 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟐 𝐖𝐚𝐲𝐧𝐞 𝐏𝐚𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐫 𝐀𝐝𝐯𝐨𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫 recipients. We are so inspired by LaShaunda’s incredible passion for her sons, her community, and disability advocacy. We’d like to tell you a little about her.

LaShaunda’s son, Eric, experienced challenges in school. On the autism spectrum and with significant sensory issues, Eric found learning difficult in a noisy and too-brightly-lit environment. Unfortunately, the best solution the school could offer was to put Eric’s desk out in the hallway, sequestering him from his classmates. Since that wasn’t an appropriate solution, his mom, LaShaunda Massey, decided to homeschool her child. She continued to take on that responsibility through Eric’s high school graduation while working full time.

LaShaunda realized that educating Eric at home solved one problem, but it was still cutting him off from his peers and community. She fervently sought out opportunities for Eric to participate in educational activities and sports, including football and Eric’s favorite, swimming. She encouraged him to join the Special Olympics, where he’s thrived athletically and socially. “With her encouragement, Eric soon took on a leadership role, becoming an International Health Messenger for Special Olympics,” said Brian Poindexter, who nominated LaShaunda for this award.
LaShaunda joined the Special Olympics Tennessee Board, contributing her extensive advocacy skills for promoting inclusion and mental health for the athletes and their loved ones. She has also challenged Eric to swim competitively in high school and in a competitive local swim club. Brian said, “LaShaunda has done everything in her power to prepare Eric to succeed in life and has built a strong support system around him.”
In addition to being an amazing Mom and advocate, LaShaunda is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in childhood clinical issues, abuse/neglect, and depression/anxiety disorders. She is currently a consultant with Polished Consulting, LLC providing training in various leadership settings across the mid-south including with the Memphis-Shelby County Schools – MSCS and the City of Memphis.
It is our privilege to know you and witness the impact you make in the lives of others, LaShaunda! Keep up the great work!
The video of LaShaunda’s award acceptance at The Arc Tennessee‘s awards banquet can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/gysWw54-HSI

We are proud to name Chase Willis our 2022 𝐖𝐞𝐬𝐥𝐞𝐲 𝐑𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐡 𝐀𝐝𝐯𝐨𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫. This incredible young man struggled with writing, reading, and speaking in proper sentences in kindergarten. He’d received speech and language therapy during his toddler and pre-K years. Still, his parents realized his challenges were likely deeper, and the limitations of virtual learning could not fully explain his lagging behind the other students during the pandemic.

His parents began looking into the possibility of Chase having dyslexia. They read whatever articles they could find and watched informational videos created by TNSTEP. “We learned about our basic rights as parents in Tennessee and the process for requesting more support from the school,” said Chase’s mom, Stephanie. We knew we had to get proactive immediately.”

Fortunately, the school helped Chase succeed, despite his diagnosis. “I could tell his teacher and reading specialist believed in him,” Stephanie said. “His dad and I certainly believe in him. But the most amazing thing is that he believes in himself. His go-to disclaimer used to be, ‘I can’t read because I’m dyslexic.’ Now that he’s receiving the support he needs at school, that’s been replaced with, ‘I’m dyslexic, so it’s not easy. But I’m up for the challenge.”

Even at his young age, Chase is learning to speak up and ask for help. After witnessing his mom advocating for him, he’s learning how to do it for himself when she’s not present. Chase is always eager to participate in educational videos for TNSTEP because he knows how life-changing training and support can be. “We have a long way to go, but I know one thing: it can only go up from here,” Stephanie said. “His motivation, confidence, and strength will take him exactly where he wants to go.”

Video footage of Chase’s recognition at The Arc Tennessee awards banquet can be seen here: https://youtu.be/pgqCnGsCjIQ