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Colorful supporters raise money for project graduation, scholarship fund

VAN BUREN, Maine — Neon colors streaked Main Street in Van Buren Saturday night, when 32 people ran to raise money for the Van Buren District Secondary School’s project graduation and The Austin James West Memorial Scholarship.

Starting at 7 p.m., Family Fun 5k Glow Run participants, donning glow sticks and white T-shirts coated in UV reactive color powder, ran — or walked — down Main Street in Van Buren in an effort to raise money to be evenly split between the high school’s project graduation and the Austin James West Memorial Scholarship. The event raised $3,800 with the help of more than 30 business sponsors.

Participants ran down Main Street passing color stations where volunteers threw more colored powder on them. By the end of the run, each participant had pink, green, yellow, orange, blue and purple powder dusting them from head-to-toe.

Aaron Lajoie, a senior at VBDSS and best friend of the late Austin James West, enlisted many members of his family Saturday night to volunteer at a color station for the fundraising event.

“We are all doing this because it is mainly for a good cause,” Lajoie said.

 Lajoie’s best friend killed himself on July 2, 2015. Since then, Austin’s mother, Sherry Theriault, started a scholarship fund in his memory to provide scholarships to Aroostook County students who want to go to college in Maine, according to Theriault.

 The mission for the scholarship is “to promote kindness and awareness through Austin West’s story in a positive manner. We hope to spread awareness for mental health and suicide survivors and give back to the community by supporting local family friendly events and awarding scholarships to Aroostook County students.”

This was the first year that Austin James West scholarship organizers partnered with project graduation to fundraise. In the previous years, the glow run was put on by the Class of 2018 Pro-Grad. This year, the Class of 2019 took over project graduation and both classes asked Theriault if she wanted to be part of the glow run as a recipient of the funds raised.

“Many of the students in the Class of 2018 were Austin’s friends,” Theriault said. “But the Class of 2019 was his class.”

Professionals from Life by Design as well as Aroostook County Mental Health were on hand for the run to show support and let the students, and all present, know that sometimes “it’s OK to not feel OK,” according to Theriault.

Theriault said that while she was hoping to raise money for the scholarship fund, the main purpose of that night was “for families to come out together and have fun, and it is important to enjoy each other.”

As the night concluded, students stayed after to dance in the black lights to show off all their colors.

“We have a bright, vivid range of colors, just like Austin,” Lajoie said. “He was also bright and full of fun.”

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