Meet Four Local Movers and Shakers
“The Towson area has been my home for most of my life,” Dr. Thomas Smyth says. “I played rec club football and lacrosse at Rogers Forge and attended Calvert Hall College High School.”
After training in California, he returned home in 1992 to join his father’s urology practice at St. Joseph Medical Center.
As the president and CEO of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center and chair of the board of Calvert Hall, he has made involvement in the Towson area an element of his career. His goal is to lead both faith-based organizations in providing world-class platforms in health care and education.
It was the height of the Great Recession. Desperate to stand out from the crowd and win consumer trust, companies began dipping tentative toes into social media marketing.
“At the time, my now-wife, Ali, was working as a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm and had launched a social media campaign that ultimately was very successful,” Towson-based entrepreneur Tim Bojanowski says.
“Other people started to ask for help, and she ran out of time in the day to do it.”
Tim left his studies at Towson University to help Ali start Zest Social Media Solutions, now the largest digital media marketing firm in Towson.
A lifelong Towsonite, Tim is president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce and was recently elected president of the Education Foundation for Baltimore County Public Schools. Not bad for a college dropout.
The 28-year-old father of two—with another one on the way—still manages to squeeze in time on the golf course, especially in the summer when the weather’s nice. He’s also a regular on the Towson breakfast scene.
“You can count on me having breakfast literally five days out of the week somewhere in Towson, just meeting people from business or the community to talk about things in Towson,” he says.
“I love everything about Towson. There’s no single entity that represents Towson; it’s all managed by the community who’s interested in making it a beautiful place to live, work and play. It’s pretty special to have that kind of community buy-in to a town.”
In 2008, Andrew Buerger’s sister, Jodi, was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
“I looked around the world and said ‘Okay, where are they doing the best research?’” Andrew says.
He discovered that Johns Hopkins was leading the way in immunotherapy, the use of the body’s immune system to fight cancer. But gaps in funding had slowed progress.
Andrew and his wife started a nonprofit, Jodi’s Climb for Hope, which has since donated more than $750,000 to Johns Hopkins for cancer research.
“We climb mountains around the world, raising money for breast cancer research,” he says.
Their third expedition was Iceland’s Mount Hvannadalshnjúkur, where participants were served a yogurt-like food for breakfast. Being lactose intolerant, Andrew was hesitant to try it.
“But I’m climbing a mountain. I gotta eat something,” he says.
He added a little to his granola and felt great. The next day he tried a little bit more.
He learned that skyr, as it’s called, is “technically a form of cheese and all the probiotics consume the lactose,” he says. “It’s got 22 grams of protein, no bad fat and almost no sugar.”
“I was looking for a convenient source of protein that I could just grab and go rather than making all these smoothies in my blender,” he says.
So, when he returned from his trip, he and his wife started their own skyr company, B’more Organic. One percent of all profits go to Jodi’s Climb for Hope.
Unfortunately, a cure didn’t come in time for Jodi.
“But if I can get Americans to eat better, I can help lower the chance of certain diseases in this country,” he says. “That’s my passion and mission in life.”
“I’ve traveled a lot, but I’ve always come back to Baltimore,” Aaron Velky, president and co-founder of Ortus Academy in Towson, says.
Aaron grew up in Prince George’s County and attended University of Maryland Baltimore County, obtaining a degree in financial economics in 2009. Jobs in the business sector being sparse at the time, he wound up in apartment management.
“I was living in East Baltimore, and the area was changing rapidly,” he says.
He got wind that students at a recently opened school were struggling in math and wanted to help.
He and a buddy teamed up to create Ortus Academy. Ortus strengthens math skills through financial literacy. Its flagship program, Money Club, is a 10-session introductory course for sixth through ninth grades, covering earning, saving, debt, credit, budgeting and investment.
“We’re trying to duplicate real-world experience without the risk, the consequences, or the wait,” he says.
Multiple states have expressed interest, and Ortus is partnering with an entire school district to bring the program to more than 10,000 students in 2020.
“The programs we have are centered around neighborhood involvement,” he says. “They just don’t work unless we have volunteers.”
He also coaches youth soccer for the Pipeline Soccer Club and plays on the men’s team. He likes to spend whatever free time he can scrounge up supporting local establishments and volunteering with nonprofits in and around the area.
“Towson’s been really good to me, and I have no reason to leave.”