Provided by the Prince William County Bar Association
Twenty Prince William County students were recognized by the Prince William County Bar Association recently for taking steps to turn their lives around after coming in contact with the juvenile justice system. At the annual Beat the Odds Banquet and awards program, students and their nominators – often teachers, guidance counselors or other influential adults – gathered with relatives and local attorneys, judges and elected officials at The Harbour View in Woodbridge, Virginia for a night of celebration.
“These people have had a personal struggle and they’ve been their own victors,” said Patrick V. Foltz, an attorney who sits on the board of the Prince William Bar Foundation.
The Prince William County Beat the Odds Program awards scholarships to graduating seniors who have had some sort of contact with the justice system, whether due to abuse, neglect, truancy or criminal activity. In addition, the program awards new laptop computers to recipients of the “Phoenix Award.” As part of the bargain, students sign a pledge to remain clear of any criminal activities and complete any court-assigned programs.
Students are also assigned mentors – members of the Prince William Bar Association who help guide them through the next steps after high school. To date, the Prince William County Bar Foundation, which funds all the scholarships and educational awards, has awarded in excess of $100,000. In the ballroom of Harbour View, all dressed up in “business-appropriate” attire, the young award recipients made their way to the front of the room to shake the hands of their nominators and accept their awards. Tears were plentiful – among awardees and audience members alike – as each scholarship recipient gave a short speech about their lives and expressed their gratitude.
“Thank you to everyone for believing in me,” said Miosha Lamar, who has bounced between multiple foster homes since the age of four. Lamar is a student athlete who will graduate this year with a 3.1 GPA.
Scholarship recipient Karen Frescas said tearfully of her nominator, Kate Schell-Smith of New Directions School in Manassas: “She taught me that I was worth the effort.”
A school counselor remarked of his student nominee, “He was a kid who never came to school but always did his homework.” Jonathan Bundren, who has struggled with homelessness since age 8, went on to finish a year’s worth of school work in 4 months, even finishing high school a month early.
Luis Bustamante, smiling sheepishly, thanked his family, “especially my mom, who I have put through so much.”
Another awardee, Bridgette Oden, accepted her award by video as she is currently serving in the National Guard.
The program also highlighted success stories from prior years. Caitlyn Bishop, a scholarship recipient from last year, who previously experimented with drugs and alcohol, is now sober and just finished her first year at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Mary Mozingo, a Beat the Odds scholarship recipient from eight years ago, was also in attendance. She currently works as a teacher of autistic children.
The Honorable D. Scott Bailey, Chief Judge of Prince William County Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court, closed out the evening. Judge Bailey said he thought the student awardees could not be labeled as victims nor as merely survivors. “‘Survivor’ tends to paint the picture of someone who is just getting through,” Bailey said. “These people live. These people have strength.” Bailey also reminded the awardees about their promise, to continue on the path that lead them to tonight’s recognition, to keep moving forward, and to someday, give a hand to someone in need.
This year’s Beat the Odds Scholarship Recipients are: Jonathan Bundren, Luis Bustamante, Michelle Christian, Karen Frescas, Miosha Lamar, Bridgette Oden, Aleia Parker, Jonathan Rodezno, and Najaely Isodora Rosas. This year’s Phoenix Award recipients are: Jazzlyn Contreras, Jazamine Gonzalez, Devaun Jenkins, Fustina King, Natika Kirsh, Jerson Lopez, Rodneia Mitchell, Festus Musa, Ana Ryan, Anthony Santillian, Juan Saucedo Yanez.
These photos by Delia Engstrom