Last week, two Middle River students were honored by the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities during their yearly awards ceremony which highlighted the inspiring stories of those who are making a positive impact on their communities in spite of disabilities and other setbacks they may face.

The winner of the Student of the Year — Middle School Award was 12-year-old Alyssa Rhine.

“Alyssa uses all of her strength to support those who gave her the ability to walk — with her pink crutches. Alyssa is quiet and modest, yet a shining example of courage and determination,” said the Mistress of Ceremonies Kathleen Cairns during the event.

Alyssa was born with PFFD, or proximal femoral focal deficiency, a rare non-hereditary congenital birth defect that primarily affects the hips and femurs. She had her first procedure when she was just 6 months old and she underwent her 18th and 19th surgeries last year.

Despite these obstacles and setbacks, Alyssa’s passion is helping others, said her mother Colleen, and in one case, even saving their lives.

She was recognized by the Commission for saving the life of a 3-year-old while her family was on vacation in North Carolina last summer. The child fell into a swimming pool while her family wasn’t looking and began to sink since she could not swim. Alyssa noticed her struggling, swam to her, and pulled her out of the water to safety.

This brave act is just one example of how Alyssa gives back. For years, she has also worked with the Save-A-Limb Fund, an organization that raises money for children who otherwise couldn’t afford certain surgeries or medical equipment.

“I just really want to help a lot of people that are less fortunate. I may have all these problems, but things could be much much worse and I am grateful they aren’t,” said Alyssa to The Avenue News.

Her next project is starting a food drive at her family’s church in order to help feed the homeless population and potentially set up a soup kitchen in the future.

This compassion and generosity is just who Alyssa is, said her mother.

“She has compassion towards people who have been ill or who are in bad situations. She has also felt compassion from others and this has molded who she is and she runs with it. She is always willing to help.”

Another honoree celebrated was Alana Bartholow who was awarded the Student of the Year — Secondary School Award.

Born premature, Alana underwent multiple head surgeries before she was declared legally blind and on the autism spectrum. However, at 21-year-old, Alana has become independent and a strong community leader, using her time to help others and give back.

She was nominated for the honor by her vision teacher, Julie Gaynor, who had worked with Alana since she was in elementary school.

“She is a true testimony to Alana’s growth and accomplishments and we feel nothing but blessed to have had such an incredible teacher to have taught her so many important skills,” said Alana’s mother, Shelly about Gaynor.

Another person who had helped Alana on this journey was Ryan Guimont, one of her teachers at Kenwood High School. Guimont constantly pushed Alana and allowed her and motivated her to thrive, said Shelly.

After graduating in 2016 from Kenwood from the Functional Academic Learning Support (FALS) program Alana was accepted into BCPS’s Post Secondary FALS (PSFALS) program on the CCBC Essex campus. Her mother said she is hoping in the future she will gain employment with a local retailer and continue to develop the many life skills that have helped her reach the goals she has achieved today.

“As I always tell Alana, ‘continue to reach for the stars, anything is possible if you strive for it,’” said her mother. “As parents, we feel blessed and are so proud of her.”

The Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities aims to provide support and advocacy for County residents with disabilities and works to ensure that County programs, buildings and services are open equally to all persons, regardless of their disabilities.

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