Reprinted from the April 1, 2014 Beaver County Times article written by Holly Vizino. Photographs by Sylvester Washington Jr. of The Times.
With a strong foundation based in faith and community, four local women were recognized as "pillars of strength" this weekend.
That was the overall message the honorees weaved throughout their acceptance speeches during the second annual Women of Excellence Awards luncheon Saturday at Geneva College.
Beaver Falls residents Sabrina Tench, Renee Suhr, Abby Young and Nya Coleman received awards from the college, as well as recognitions by U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12, Sewickley, and state Rep. Jim Marshall, R-14, Big Beaver.
The selection committee -- led by Kathy Kinzer Downs, director of Multicultural Student Services at Geneva -- included Regina Jones; Cheryl Johnson, Geneva’s director of Marketing Services and Public Relations; and Rebecca Ficca Salopek, a 2013 Woman of Excellence honoree.
Of the 30 nominations, two of whom were high school students, the committee chose the women who best fit the qualifications: role-model behavior, community service, building up Beaver Falls and "serving as a beacon of light or pillar of strength."
Leslie Gossett, guidance counselor at Beaver Falls High School, nominated senior Coleman, whom she identified as a "strong student and role model."
Coleman, 18, claims other distinctions, including West Point Leadership Award, Miss Pennsylvania finalist and senior ambassador for Student Voice at her school. Her extracurricular activities range from track to musical theater. Coleman will play the lead in the Elton John-Tim Rice musical "Aida" April 11-13 at Beaver Falls High School.
Contributing to her community through children's ministry at church and school clubs, Coleman recently helped raise money through the Ushers Club for Highmark’s Caring Place, a home for grieving families.
Among her influences are Michelle Micija, her journalism teacher, and her youth pastor, Daren Duncan.
“He’s been a spiritual father to me,” Coleman said.
Like Coleman, the other honorees stressed their roles as team members of the community.
"I'm privileged to be planted where there is so much support," Suhr said.
Suhr was nominated by Jacqueline Fullen for her dedication to the development of the city through Beaver Falls Forever (BFF), Beaver Falls Business District Authority and Stray Cat Studio.
A graduate of Geneva College where she received a master’s degree, Suhr lived in Vancouver and Washington before returning to Beaver Falls.
"I think just realizing that there was an economic development movement here of sorts already happening and ... it just caught fire in me," she said about her decision to stay.
She, her husband, Hank Suhr, and their three boys live in a renovated Victorian house in downtown Beaver Falls.
Suhr’s pursuit of studio space with Stray Cat connected her with other artists and students, and she is now helping with a joint project involving a 15-foot mural for the downtown.
Abby Young, like Suhr, hesitated to receive recognition, but her nominators, Risa Tillman and Heather Moore, felt differently.
“She is one of the most life-giving people I’ve known,” Tillman said.
Young, a team member of TRAILS, a nonprofit Christian organization for people affected by incarceration, mentors young women. She is known for going out of her way to console a crying woman on the street, talk to a lonely man in a restaurant and supervise Geneva College interns.
“She is invaluable to the Human Services Department,” said Stephanie Schindel, who is Young’s academic adviser and professor at Geneva.
Before graduating in 2008, Young was on Geneva’s varsity soccer team, and she continues to play in a recreational league. Although she loves foreign travel, Young said she is proud to call Beaver Falls her home.
Another Beaver Falls transplant, Sabrina Tench, moved to the area 21 years ago when her husband, the Rev. Bernard Tench, became pastor of Second Baptist Church. As her children left for college, Tench sought to provide the care she hoped others would give her son and daughters.
She mentors teen girls through a program called Girlfriends and cooks meals for Geneva students every week. Tench takes Girlfriends to retirement homes and the food bank regularly. She also aids students at Tiger Pause and leads Bible study at her church.
"You never know what God is going to do to encourage you," she said about the award. "I'm encouraged."
As one of last year's honorees, Salopek ended Saturday’s ceremony with a quote from one of this year’s winners: "I am being honored for what I have done all my life. I just do it without thinking about it … serving the Lord."
Geneva College invites students to accept the challenge of an academically excellent, Christ-centered and affordable education. Offering nearly 40 undergraduate majors, Adult Degree Programs with fully online and campus-based options, and seven graduate degrees, programs are recognized for their high quality. U.S. News & World Report ranks Geneva as a Top 10 Best Value in the North Region with one of the Top 100 engineering programs in the nation. Adhering to the inerrancy of Scripture, a Geneva education is grounded in God’s word as well as in a core curriculum designed to prepare students vocationally to think, write and communicate well in today’s world.