Eastside women rule in county’s Women of the Year awards
- By Marge Neal -
Three women with ties to eastern Baltimore County will sweep the awards when the county’s Commission for Women gathers this Tuesday, March 28, to recognize its annual Woman of the Year honorees.
Kelli Szczybor of Perry Hall, Toni Torsch of Nottingham and Nhu Dang, a Parkville High School senior, have been named the Commission’s Woman of the Year, LaFrance Muldrow Woman Making a Difference awardee and Young Woman of the Year, respectively.
Szczybor is being honored for bringing her vision of an all-inclusive playground and park to fruition; Torsch is being recognized for her advocacy for opioid addiction awareness, education and treatment; and Dang is being honored for her school leadership, academic excellence and community volunteerism, according to Commission staff member Nancy Surosky.
“These women are all really amazing,” Surosky told the East County Times. “Our Commission is really proud of their work.”
Woman of the Year
Kelli Szczybor turned a family tragedy into a lasting legacy when she pursued a vision that eventually became Angel Park, an all-inclusive, passive and active recreation area in Perry Hall.
In creating a space that she hoped would bring people of different generations and abilities together, Szczybor was driven by the memory of her son Ryan, who died of leukemia 19 years ago when he was just 15 months old.
This is the second time she is being honored by a county commission for her work on Angel Park. She and park co-founder Michelle Streckfus were honored in October with the Accessibility Award from the Commission on Disabilities.
Szczybor got the idea for an accessible playground while volunteering to help build a similar play area, “Annie’s Playground,” in Harford County.
Her vision for such a play area in Baltimore County morphed into a much bigger plan that included passive, contemplative areas and includes room for future growth, with additional amenities as fundraising allows.
There were naysayers who said the women would never be able to raise that kind of money, and if they did, it would take years, according to Szczybor. But those naysayers underestimated the drive and passion of the project leaders, and the needed money was soon in the bank.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Councilman David Marks were instrumental in finding a piece of land near the Perry Hall library that was designated for the park and the project became a reality.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Angel park, a project that Szczybor estimates cost closer to $3 million with in-kind services and donations, was held last October.
Bill Paulshock, owner of Bill’s Seafood and Catering, as well as Szczybor’s employer and uncle, nominated her for the Woman of the Year honor. In his nomination, he wrote that, while Angel Park was a highly visible project that garnered a lot of attention, Szczybor also does a lot of quiet, behind-the-scenes work for others.
Through the Ryan Foundation, Szczybor helps families who have children being treated at the Johns Hopkins Childrens Center, according to Paulshock.
In the nominating form, Paulshock wrote of Kelli taking time out of her Angel Park work to help a family from El Salvador pay for burial expenses for their child, who they had brought to Hopkins for treatment, according to Surosky.
She also helped a start a grief support ministry at St. Joseph’s Church in Fullerton.
LaFrance Muldrow Making a Difference Award
When Toni Torsch lost her son Dan to a drug overdose in 2010, she quickly discovered there was little to no support available to grieving family.
“After Dan passed away, I wanted to do something ,” she told the Times. “I had gone to a couple of grief support meetings but it just wasn’t cutting it; it didn’t address my needs.”
With some research, Torsch discovered an organization called GRASP - Grief Recovery After Substance Passing - but the closest group was in Philadelphia. She went to a meeting and connected with the group right away.
“I knew immediately I wanted to bring this back to Baltimore - to start a group here,” she said.
The chapter she started here now has 300 members and often meets at the Perry Hall library.
The grieving mother founded the Daniel Carl Torsch Foundation, named for her late son, and has dedicated much of the past six years to helping other families deal with the power of addiction and the grief of losing loved ones to the disease.
She has been instrumental in getting legislation passed to make Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, easier to get for third parties, according to Torsch’s sister, Deb Kennedy, who nominated her for the award.
Before the legislation, Naloxone could be prescribed only to the addict, according to Torsch.
“But that makes no sense, “ she said. “If the addict overdoses, then they are in no position to administer themselves a life-saving injection.”
Torsch has spent much of her life volunteering in schools, churches and the community in general, according to Kennedy, so it was only natural that she took her personal grief and used it to help others.
“If your son has cancer, everyone wants to help,” Kennedy said. “If your son is an addict, no one wants to help. My sister is right there doing something about it.”
Torsch said that she has trained nearly 400 families to administer Naloxone, and has been told that four of her kits have been used to saves the lives of individuals who had overdosed.
She laments the greed of pharmaceutical companies that has substantially driven up the costs of the drug.
“It used to be $1 a dose; it’s now $37.50 a dose,” she said. “I know it’s supply and demand, because the drug has become so much more in demand, but this is just pure greed.”
Foundation funds also help individuals pay for substance abuse and sober living treatment programs.
Torsch is candid about how her son succumbed to the power of opioid addiction, which he fought for seven years. An injury while still in high school spurred a prescription for opioid-based pain medication, which Dan began abusing.
Looking back, Torsch now recognizes that her son began complaining about various aches and pains in an effort to get doctors to prescribe more medication.
“I didn’t see it then, but when I look back, I see that he was shopping doctors for pain medication,” she said.
Dan attended four different rehabilitation programs, two in Maryland and two out-of-state, his mother said. Each time, he seemed to being doing well, but would relapse when friends from his drug circle would encourage him to do drugs with them.
“In the end, $40 killed him,” she said. “He went and bought drugs and died the next day.”
Torsch said she is “humbled and more than a little uncomfortable” with being singled out for this award.
“But I will accept it because this kind of recognition keeps the conversation going and lets people who need us know we exist.”
Young Woman of the Year
The awe in Surosky’s voice was audible as she described Nhu Dang’s accomplishments in the four years the native of Vietnam has been in this country.
Reading from the nomination form submitted by Parkville High School’s guidance department, Surosky spoke of Dang’s quick mastery of the English language, her straight-A course transcript, her weighted grade-pont average of 5.57, the leadership positions she holds in a variety of school clubs and organizations, her community volunteerism and the fact that she’s headed to Yale University, where she plans to major in biology/pre-med, on a full scholarship.
“Her mother came to this country in 2011 and worked a minimum wage job to save enough money to bring Nhu here,” Surosky said. “In 2012, she was able to bring Nhu here and the main reason for coming here was to better Nhu’s life through education.”
Each year, the Commission receives between 30 and 40 nominations for its awards and competition is stiff, according to Surosky.
“But even with that competition, this year, the student stood right out,” she said. “Nhu just rose to the top.”
Dang is a student in Parkville’s Math, Science and Computer Science Magnet Program and is ranked first academically in her class of 412 students, Surosky said.
In addition to her school and community involvement, Dang has taken on the responsibility of being a caregiver of sorts for her mother, who has suffered from chronic illnesses since living in Vietnam. Because of her quick mastery of English, Dang has become her mother’s translator and navigator of the local health care system while her mother is being restored to good health, according to the nominating information.
Dang hopes to become a medical doctor and plans to work with underserved populations.
“Her concern for others, maturity coupled with academic prowess and strong commitment to learning makes her a young woman destined for great success,” school officials wrote in her nominating form.