Students in the western Wisconsin city of Eau Claire will receive free gowns and caps this year courtesy of a local non-profit, the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association. After discovering that some students would have to skip their graduation because they couldn’t afford graduation robes, the organization launched the Cap and Gown Recycling Project in 2017.
As part of their cap and gown project, the organization collected enough gowns to clothe students at two of the area’s high schools. They also obtained caps and gowns for college students graduating from UWEC, the town’s branch of the University of Wisconsin. The gowns and caps, which normally cost $42, were distributed freely to any student who visited the non-profit’s headquarters. The Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association even covered the cost of dry cleaning the graduation gowns for the students. They made sure to stock gowns in three different colors, so local students could pick out the required color for their school.
The Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association was founded in 1983 to assist newly arrived Hmong refugees, most of whom entered the United States from refugee camps in Thailand. The association services the entire Chippewa Valley area, a section of the state that is home to around 3,000 Hmong residents.
In addition to their free graduation gown and cap program, the organization offers many other resources like Hmong language classes and free rice for low-income families. The association also provides free housing for needy individuals and families, a mentoring service and a special program to assist local residents who become victims of crime.
Wisconsin is home to around 50,000 Hmong people, the third-largest number of Hmong people in the United States. While the majority of the state’s population lives in southeastern Wisconsin around Milwaukee, the area around Eau Claire has seen a substantial increase in the Hmong population in recent years.