An Oct. 29 fundraiser at Doundrins Distillery in Cottage Grove will help local students of color envision a future in college.

Monona Grove High School’s Black Student Union (BSU) has paired up with Forever Friends — a group focused on supporting diversity efforts in the district — to raise money for Monona Grove students to visit historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).

The Halloween-themed fundraiser will kick off at 5 p.m. and include drink deals, family portraits, food trucks and a costume contest.

“The whole idea behind this is to help students of color see college as a reality,” said Jim Ahearn, who helped found Forever Friends. “The student achievement gap is a real thing, and not many students of color even see college as a possibility.”

As written in the Higher Education Act of 1965, HBCUs are defined as, “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.”

Though, HBCUs “offer all students, regardless of race, an opportunity to develop their skills and talents,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Ahearn said the plan is to take the students on a trip to tour HBCUs down south in April 2022.

Anna Neal, who’s also involved with Forever Friends, said the group is hoping to put a dent in what the trip will cost.

“If we could fundraise about half of the funds necessary, which would be in the $6,000 range, we would be pretty happy with that,” Neal said.

Neal’s husband, Justin, said it’s a cause that hits close to home.

“I actually did this exact trip with a local organization… where we took a bus down south and visited four or five HBCUs… and it was honestly an experience that I’ve kept with me and will remember forever,” he said. “Having gone through it and… knowing what it meant to me at the time, it’s definitely something I’d love to help the kids in this school district do as well.”

Ahearn agrees.

“If we can get them down to a college or university where there’s professors and students [of color] in a vibrant college atmosphere, it will hopefully become something real to these students and achievable,” Ahearn said. “We want them to envision that possibility.”

For those who want to help but can’t attend the Oct. 29 fundraiser, Neal said donations can be mailed directly to Monona Grove High School.

There is also still room for local businesses to sponsor the event, she said.

To read more about the event, visit its official Facebook page:

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