WHEELING, W.Va. - The Ohio Valley African American Student Association has made great strides since its inception in 2010 in honoring achievement by and providing opportunities for African American students in Belmont County in Ohio, along with Ohio, Hancock, Brooke and Marshall counties in West Virginia.
In 2012, the OVAASA honored 104 students from 10 area high schools during its annual academic awards banquet with nearly 50 students being recognized for achieving a GPA of 3.0 and higher.
Nine of those students were recipients of college scholarships.
But the organization wants to do more than just recognize achievement. It wants to open the students' eyes to a world of possibilities that don't normally witness growing up in the Ohio Valley, a section of the country where African Americans are an overwhelming minority population.
That's why the organization is hoping to raise funds to pay for a trip for high school students to travel to Atlanta, Ga. to tour and experience the Atlanta University Center (AUC).
The AUC is a grouping some of the country's most storied historically black colleges like Morehouse College, Spellman College, Morris Brown College, Clark Atlanta University, the Interdenominational Theological Institute and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
Wheeling native Ron Scott Jr., who is heading the fundraising efforts and is a integral part of the OVAASA, knows firsthand the benefits of an education at one of the AUC schools.
Scott graduated from Morehouse. He grew up in Wheeling, a community with one of the larger African American populations in the Ohio Valley. Despite that, it didn't prepare Scott for his time at Morehouse.
"It was a complete and total culture shock," said Scott, recalling his first semester on campus. "Coming from Wheeling, which had a decent population of black folks compared to say, Cameron or Moundsville, to a place like Atlanta ... it was six months before I saw a white person that wasn't on television.
"The mayor was black at the time, the police were black, the cab drivers, the congressmen, the councilmen ... you got to see black folks in a broader spectrum.
"When I was there, I got to meet so many people from so many different walks of life.
"Sometimes, coming from (the Ohio Valley), you have to define yourself narrowly in an attempt to feel united."
It enabled Scott not to have to live as a black man in a predominantly white community, with the positive and negative experiences that come with that, but rather simply as man, trying to gain his education and better himself.
That's a main reason why Scott is hoping to get this trip to the AUC funded.
"The main purpose is I love the idea of the kids getting to see the universities, but another is a psychological nuance," Scott said.
In terms of education, there are not a lot of African American educators, from the elementary schools all the way up through the local colleges and universities.
"There isn't a finish line for a lot of the black kinds in our area," Scott said. "They don't have the opportunity to see what it will look like to be a professional in the area.
"There are not a lot of images of success that these students can strive to emulate."
That's not the case at the AUC.
Scott is hoping to raise enough funds to allow 30-40 students, preferably high school juniors, to come on the trip, along with around 15 chaperones.
Being that the trip will likely take place in the spring, taking seniors may be counter productive as the filing deadlines for FASFA forms has passed and many have already solidified their post-high school plans.
The money raised will be used for a bus, a driver, and expenses for two nights and three days in town.
Scott noted that Morehouse does have a housing facility specifically for students coming to visit and that option may assist in cutting down costs, although the facility is only for the students, not the chaperones who would still have to be housed off-campus.
In effort to raise the necessary funds, along with fund the yearly academic banquet, the OVAASA holds a yearly celebrity server night at Undo's, along with holding a family night out campaign at the local Bob Evans.
It also hosts a yearly gospel holiday celebration concert at Wheeling Jesuit University, as well as a hip hop showcase for area artists.
In addition, the OVAASA has launched an online fundraising campaign, utilizing the GoFundMe website.
The organization also has an account with WesBanco where people can send donations. Many have already contributed to both the campaign and the yearly fundraising efforts.
"People like (Ohio County) Sheriff Pat Butler and Wheeling Jesuit University and the Ohio County school system and board of education have gone above and beyond and have tried to get us closer to our goal.
"A lot of folks are beginning to see the merit this organization has."
The organization's stated mission is to "advocate and promote educational achievement, higher learning and scholarship opportunities for the African American students in the Ohio Valley."
This trip would go a long way in ensuring the success of that mission.