This year, the Washington Apple Education Foundation awarded scholarships worth a total of $475,000 to 187 students, but had to turn another 232 students away.
The foundation was formed in 1994 and is recognized as the charity of the state’s tree fruit industry. Its mission is to influence lives through access to education.
Each year, it awards hundreds of scholarships to high school students who otherwise might not be able to go on to higher education. Many are Hispanic students whose parents work in the tree fruit industry and will be the first generation in their families to go to college. The hope is that the students will become role models in their communities and influence future generations.
The number of scholarships has increased fourfold over the past decade, but the number of applicants has also risen, particularly in recent years with big increases in tuition costs in Washington State. The cost of tuition, room, board, and books at a public university like the University of Washington or Washington State University now totals around $20,000 a year.
Jennifer Witherbee, executive director of the foundation, said that most of the applicants—even those who didn’t receive scholarships—were deserving.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t have potential,” she said. “We ran out of money. We want to be able to assist every single one of these applicants who is college ready and just needs a little bit of assistance to make it a reality.”
Kailan Dunn, Jr., son of orchardists Kailan and Sue Dunn of Naches, Washington, felt fortunate to receive several scholarships from the foundation while he was at Washington State University from 2004 to 2007 studying for a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and management. As well as easing the family’s financial stress, the foundation’s support motivated him to get good grades. It also gave him a desire to work with the tree fruit industry after graduating and to find ways to give back so that other young people could have the opportunity to go to college.
“When I got out of college, my biggest thing I wanted to do was to get involved with the Washington Apple Education Foundation and find a way to give back,” he recalled.
On graduating, he got a job with Northwest Farm Credit Services and is now agriculture relations manager with Banner Bank.
This year, Dunn, 27, became the first scholarship recipient to be elected to the foundation’s board, where he serves alongside Dan Plath, David Millheisler, Hans van Someren Gréve, Karen Doornink, La Verne Bergstrom, Marc Griggs, Rachel Sullivan, Ruth Pringle, Sean Gilbert, Steve Clive, Todd Kammers, Tom Stokes, and Cory Groves.
Dunn said he’s been impressed by the willingness of industry people to give their time and money. As a board member, he would like to see the foundation continue to grow so it can help more young people with their education.
The foundation administers many scholarships established by tree fruit industry members as well as its own scholarships. Some businesses award scholarships specifically to family members of their employees, which helps students who otherwise might not be competitive with the whole pool of applicants.
Dalton Thomas, president of Oneonta Trading Corporation, established a scholarship for Hispanic students who are playing college-level sports. “His concept is that these are team players and people who have those same skills to bring to the workplace,” Witherbee explained.
About 70 percent of the scholarship funds come from donors in the tree fruit industry and the rest from fundraisers. Last year, Dunn and Witherbee organized a WAEF fundraiser to tie in with the Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Washington. Current scholarship recipients were encouraged to take part in the run and seek sponsorships. Whoever raised the most money would have a scholarship in their name dedicated to students from their high school.
One participant in the Bloomsday fundraiser was 21-year-old Xochitl Velazquez, who earned an associate degree while at high school in East Wenatchee. Her father, Gabriel Velazquez, works as a fruit inspector at Columbia Marketing International, and her mother, Xochitl Hurtado, works on the apple packing line at Columbia Fruit Packers.
Velazquez received a scholarship sponsored by CMI, Columbia Fruit Packers, and McDougall and Sons, which provided her with the equivalent of a full ride at a public university for the three years it took her to earn a bachelor’s degree at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. She majored in business administration with a triple concentration in international business, marketing, and finance. This year she’s returning to Gonzaga to study for her MBA.
“My family and I could not pay for my college education on our own, but with the help of this scholarship, this financial burden was lifted,” Velazquez said when she told her success story at this year’s scholarship award ceremony.
It takes a selection committee of more than 60 tree fruit industry people to review the applications and determine which student is the best fit for each of the awards available. Students don’t need to be pursuing a degree or career in agriculture to qualify, unless that’s specified for a particular scholarship, but foundation staff keep in touch with them as they go though college and make sure they’re aware of career opportunities in the tree fruit industry. The foundation can help arrange job shadows or find internships.
Dunn, who has helped review scholarship applications, said it’s been an eyeopener to read the applications. “It’s something that’s just amazing because there are so many hard stories that those students have been through. There’s probably 98 percent that are deserving of scholarships. There are not enough to go around, but that’s why I think it’s important to keep growing the foundation.”
Witherbee said being a recipient makes a real difference to a student’s life. “We hear that from our students all the time. It’s more than the money. It provides motivation. It helps them know that people recognize their potential and see them as a good investment.”