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As a child growing up in rural Vermont, Wynona Ward and her mother suffered horrific abuse at the hands of Ward’s father. Now, Ward travels the length of the state several times each year in her trademark pickup truck, delivering mobile legal support for isolated, abused women and children in whose shoes she once stood.

In honor of her efforts to end domestic violence by empowering its victims, Ward has been named as the first CNN Hero of 2010. She’s the subject of a powerful video airing on Larry King Live and an in-depth profile on CNN.com—and she’s in the running to appear on 2010’s “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” in November. Hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, CNN Heroes was launched in 2007 to spotlight everyday citizens changing the world.

“Wynona has an incredible personal story,” says Rebecca Torrey, who nominated Ward as a CNN Hero. “After surviving childhood abuse, she ran a trucking company for fifteen years. But when abuse resurfaced in her family, she made a radical life change. She knew it was her calling to work towards ending domestic violence.”

At 44, Wynona became the first member of her family to graduate from college. She then applied and was accepted to Vermont Law School, and, in 1996, was selected as a Schweitzer Fellow – a graduate student who commits to addressing health disparities via an intensive direct service project lasting a full year, on top of his or her professional school responsibilities. By conducting their Schweitzer service project during such a demanding time, Fellows emerge with the tools to make service an enduring part of their “regular lives.”

“While completing her Schweitzer project, Wynona’s firsthand knowledge that most battered women simply did not have the material means to escape from abusive situations was reinforced,” says Torrey, who directs the New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Program.

So Ward launched Have Justice-Will Travel (HJWT)—a unique and innovative mobile program that provides free legal services for domestic violence victims in rural Vermont. In the past decade, HJWT has delivered legal and social support to more than 10,000 such women and children.

“[We] work with these women so they can become strong and independent and self-reliant and be able to support themselves and their children,” Ward says in CNN’s profile. “[HJWT] would have … said to my mother, ‘Yes, you are being abused, and it is not OK. You do not have to put up with this. You do not have to be a submissive wife. And you do not have to put up with having someone beat you. We can help you. We can help you to get out.’”

Ward is the first CNN Hero of 2010. Her profile will be available throughout the year at www.CNN.com/Heroes. CNN will air “CNN Hero of the Week” profiles throughout the year; these profiles are available at www.CNN.com/Heroes. An esteemed Blue Ribbon Panel will select the Top Ten CNN HEROES, and the public will then select the “CNN Hero of the Year” via voting at www.CNN.com/Heroes; the voting period dates will be announced later this year. In 2009, the third year of the CNN HEROES initiative, it received over 9,000 submissions from 100 countries – a new record. This represents more than twice the number of nominations received in 2008.

Torrey believes that if anyone deserves the title of CNN Hero, it’s Ward. “The purpose of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship [ASF] is to develop leaders who dedicate their lives to serving society’s most vulnerable members—ultimately reducing health disparities,” Torrey says. “Through HJWT, Wynona is doing exactly that.”

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