El Paso County Attorney awards scholarships to violence victims through Cycle for Change program

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Cycle for Change Scholarship Awards

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal awards Cycle for Change scholarships at Villa Maria. Photo credit: Estefania Seyffert

Overseeing daily cases of domestic violence prompted El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal and her staff to develop an idea for partnering with women to break the cycle of violence and help them to thrive.

The idea gave birth to Cycle for Change, an annual cycling tour that began in 2013 to raise money for scholarships for women who are trying to move beyond a past of domestic violence. The scholarships can be used in pursuit of any endeavor, whether it be academic or therapeutic

El Paso’s county attorney’s office helps obtain protective orders for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

“When we deal with victims of domestic violence, we deal with women who are primarily in crisis,” Bernal said.

Now, the county attorney’s office partners with Villa Maria, a homeless shelter for women without children, to put on Cycling for Change. The event, which features a 12, 25, and 50 mile bicycle tour, has raised about $4,500 per year in the last two years.The latest Cycle for Change event was Oct.18 at Gallegos Park.

“Every dollar raised from the cycling event goes directly to the scholarship recipients,” said Bernal. She explained that former scholarship winners can apply to be recipients for Cycle for Change scholarship every year.

Marta Villaseñor is grateful for the opportunity the scholarship gives her. She is a third time winner of one of the eight scholarships that were awarded this year,

“I was so surprised the first year that I won because there were so many people who had applied, the second time I applied once again and I got it and this is my third time,” Villaseñor said.

She recently completed her GED and plans to use her scholarship money to go to college and become a social worker.

“I am very happy I give thanks to Jo Anne for this opportunity that she has given us. The Marta from yesterday is not the Marta you see today,” Villaseñor said.

In addition to offering women who have survived violence an opportunity to excel, the county attorney’s office also sponsors a Teen Court program to help younger El Pasoans turn their lives around.

The program offers juvenile offenders the opportunity to modify their sentences through community service. The court helps the offenders as well as the teen volunteers interesting in learning about the legal system by serving as jurors, bailiffs, and attorneys.

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