Washington’s tree fruit industry has awarded nearly $9 million in scholarships to some 2,000 students through the Washington Apple Education Foundation since its inception in 1994.

And that figure is about to go up: More than $1.1 million will be awarded this year to 330 students, as the group celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Early on, it was clear donors saw the opportunity to make the greatest impact with industry families through scholarships for college-bound young people. In recent years, the organization has added a commitment to help students selected for scholarship reach graduation, through college- and career-planning workshops, said Executive Director Jennifer Witherbee.

“You just don’t get a check from WAEF,” Witherbee said, chuckling about the group’s ongoing commitment to scholarship recipients. “You’re kind of stuck with us. And it’s paying off: We’re seeing more and more of our students volunteering, we have an employee who is a program graduate, and more and more mentors. Many come back to us, full circle.”

The scholarship luncheons are being held in Wenatchee, Washington on July 22 and in Yakima, Washington on July 29. The deadline for tickets is July 15.

For tickets or more information, visit waef.org or call 509-663-7713.

—by Shannon Dininny