Women In Strength

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Award Recipient

BRADENTON - Young women attending Pace Center for Girls heard first-hand how three overcame adversities in their lives.

39 Pace students were in the audience at the sixth annual Women in Strength Awards Luncheon on Friday at the Bradenton Country Club. They heard Ruth Lyerly, Valerie Wojciechowicz and Tristan Smith tell their inspirational stories.

Jayne Kocher nominated and presented the first award to Lyerly, a registered nurse and married mother of four sons. After a son died because of substance abuse, Lyerly became chairwoman for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition and is a co-founder of Families Against Addictive Drug Abuse.

"It can happen in anyone's family," Lyerly said. "This award gives me another avenue to get the word out about the severity of substance abuse."

Shelly Stein presented the award to Wojciechowicz, an HIV-positive personal trainer and aerobics instructor who has overcome struggles with addiction and obesity. She provides education and inspiration to a variety of local groups and speaks nationally at conferences.

"Even seemingly bad things can often be a good thing in disguise," Wojciechowicz said. "I never thought I would be standing in front of a group of women talking about the adversities in my life and that the obstacles I went through could help someone else."

Valerie is on the board of directors of Project Smile and is a member of the National Association of People with AIDS.

Amy Wick Mavis, executive director of Pace Center for Girls, presented former Pace student Tristan Smith with the final award. After many bad choices, Smith began attending Pace and turned her life around. Today, she successfully manages motherhood and a career as a dental assistant and is planning for further education to become a registered dental hygienist.

Mary Glass and Tricia McKay May of the Manatee County Education Foundation said they were overwhelmed by the heartfelt stories, which are a wonderful way to reach out to the youth in the community.

 

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By Wendy Dewhurst

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