Scholarships help El Paso survivors of domestic abuse to further their education

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EL PASO – Inside a small dark rectangular room inside a shelter for victims of domestic violence blocks from the border highway, a brown-haired woman in black slacks and black flats recently sat tensely on a couch next to a certificate and a single white rose.

The woman, a single mother pursuing a college degree, had just received a $1000 award from the El Paso County Attorney’s Office toward completing her higher education.

Speaking in a halting tone, she explained to the roomful of reporters that receiving the scholarship award was a “beautiful feeling” because “it gives me an opportunity to not stress about financially finding a way to continue my education. It allows me to look at what… I received and evaluate what I’ve gone through in my life and know that I am a survivor.”

The woman was one of six scholarship winners during a scholarship award ceremony held by the EL Paso County Attorney’s Office for survivors of domestic violence. Money for the scholarships was raised during a fall fundraiser called “Cycle for Change: From Surviving to Thriving.” Over 300 cyclists participated in the October 2016 fundraising event and raised a record breaking $10,000.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal met with the scholarship winners, all survivors of domestic abuse, at the Villa Maria Shelter on March 24.

“We are celebrating our fifth scholarship ceremony and today six El Pasoans received scholarships up to $1,000 each,” Bernal said at the brief indoor ceremony at Villa Maria which was attended by local news media. This year’s winners included an immigrant woman from Vietnam and a female Iraq War veteran and one man.

Bernal said each of the recipients is a former victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking and, “each has survived the trauma that they’ve gone through and are now in a stage of their life where they’ve gone from surviving to really thriving.”

She added that, “the scholarship money that was awarded today will help each of them in their dreams to continue to move their lives forward.”

The “Cycle For Change: From Surviving to Thriving” scholarships have been awarded twice a year since they began in 2013. The program received 20 applications during its first year, and 13 applied for the 2017 awards, a decline Bernal hopes to reverse through increased publicity for the program.

The scholarship awards communicate to the survivors that they need to regain their independence, Bernal said.

“Very often in our community when there’s a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault the community is equipped to help that victim through crisis,” she said.

“They have children they need to support so part of the community response needs to be the recognition and willingness to help victims beyond the crisis stage,” Bernal added.

One of the survivors at the ceremony, who did not wish to to be identified, said the $1000 scholarship will allow her to move forward with her life.

“I struggled a little to apply because I had to relive again the experience that I had in my life, but I got the strength and I applied and thank God I got the award,” she said.

The woman also offered advice to other victims of domestic violence: ”Even though there are times when you think that you can’t depend on anybody, that you can’t trust anybody, that you have to keep everything in, you don’t.”

She added: “There’s always help and the first step is looking for that help and getting away from the abuser.”

The award to further her college education, she said, will allow her to “provide a better future for her son, be his role model and show him the beauty of life… The cycle of violence is not for me and not for my son.”

Little by little, she said she’s been able to return to school and will soon obtain her bachelor’s degree, and has plans to work on getting her master’s degree.

“There’s always a better tomorrow,” she said. “Know that there’s a way out and there’s people who care for you.”

At the conclusion of the brief event, Bernal urged others who experience abuse or stalking to reach out to community organizations or to her office for help.

Persons who experience domestic violence or other forms of violence can contact the County Attorney’s Office for assistance at 915- 546-2050 or go to the county attorney website epcounty.com, where they can can find information on how to get a protective order and also how to obtain information on the next round of scholarships.

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