Go and do it: Former teacher, parent, law student wants to help people with special needs

By Brandi Palmer

Ask Tammy Schweinsberg how she feels about graduating from Stetson University with her J.D. and she will tell you that law school has blinked by in an instant.

Tamara Schweinsberg.

Tammy Schweinsberg.

The busy single mom of six children ranging in ages from six to 19 was born and raised in St. Petersburg. A student in Stetson’s part-time J.D. program, she is the first person in her family to attend law school. Neither of her parents finished college. Her father studied mechanics, and her mother nursing. Tammy started out as a teacher, but had always reserved a special respect for the work lawyers do. Decades prior, her father’s lawyer had helped the family face difficult times during a divorce. Tammy suddenly found herself facing legal issues. She decided she wanted to pursue law.

Navigating the school system as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, Tammy learned firsthand the challenges of  helping someone with a disability obtain the right resources. Tammy also struggled to assist her mother in a nursing home. She was motivated to find a way to help people with special needs.

“Life experiences help me be a better counselor,” said Tammy. “No matter what you want to do, use whatever reason you have to go and do it,” said Tammy.

Tammy found that the elder law concentration at Stetson, and its close relationship to disability law, was a perfect inroad to helping people with special needs.

“Being in the elder law program opened my eyes to the issues,” said Tammy, who works at the Law Office of Christopher Young, P.A., part time. She spent her summer interning for two months at the Pinellas Justice Center working on a complicated financial exploitation case. “If I can help someone with special needs not be a victim, I can help people,” said Tammy.

She credits Professor Rebecca Morgan, the co-director of Stetson’s Center for Excellence in Elder Law, with always inspiring her to maintain a positive outlook. “I feel that when I am around her, whatever it is I am having a problem with, I can do it,” said Tammy.

Originally scheduled to wrap up law school in May, Tammy pushed back her graduation one semester to help her young child recently diagnosed with ADD transition into Kindergarten.

“You have to pare down and decide what your priorities are,” Tammy said. She explained that when she started law school, she leaned on her children to help prioritize their time commitments. Private piano lessons and dance classes were dropped off the list and Tammy encouraged her children to take advantage of extracurricular programs at school. “I used to cut into the margins,” Tammy explained. “Now if it’s not important, we’re not doing it.”

“It’s never easy to go to school with school-age children, much less law school, “ Tammy said. “So when things get tough, as they usually do, I remember the reasons why I made my decision to attend Stetson Law. I lean on my support systems, and regroup. I persevere.”

On Thursday, Tammy joined her classmates celebrating graduation in December from Stetson Law. She received the Dean’s Award, a special award for extraordinary service to the law school.