This spring saw the one-year anniversary of the creation of the new Washington apples specialty license plate by the state Legislature. The first plates became available July 1, 2020.
While promotion of the plates didn’t happen as planned last year, due to the pandemic, we are still very pleased to share that at the time this was written, there were 562 Washington apples license plates currently registered to Washington drivers. The license plates provide deserved recognition for the hard work of industry employees and the over $7 billion economic impact created for the state by Washington’s tree fruit industry. Our entire region should take pride in the world-class reputation of Washington-grown tree fruits.
Industry and community recognition is important, but it’s not the only benefit created with these specialty plates. Every plate sold and renewed sends $28 to support access to higher education through the Washington Apple Education Foundation (WAEF). Annually through WAEF, the tree fruit industry awards over $1 million in scholarships to kids raised in industry families. The impact for students and their families is much greater than financial: They join a community here to support their academic, career and life goals.
This year, more than ever before, students have shared how important WAEF support has been to them. WAEF outreach traditionally includes professional development workshops, career exploration events, semiannual care packages, campus dinners and more. This is done to make sure students have the best chance for successfully launching their careers upon graduation and to encourage on-time college graduation.
Student feedback in response to the pandemic led WAEF to increase outreach over the past year with the addition of virtual game nights, a health and wellness challenge and recognition for freshmen after completion of their first college term. Reformatted workshops on networking, interview skills, budgeting, negotiating a first employment contract and other topics have occurred virtually, along with student engagement in mock interview sessions and one-on-one resume reviews with volunteers. A revised mentoring concept was launched and quickly took hold with groups of six students and two mentors meeting monthly. Former WAEF students have presented online sessions about their current careers in multiple fields, including nursing, fund management, accounting, tree fruit production and more.
Today, 80 percent of WAEF scholarship recipients are first-generation college students. In most instances, their parents did not have the opportunity to attend college; in many instances, their parents did not graduate from high school. First-generation students begin college with several risk factors for leaving school prior to degree completion. We are incredibly proud of WAEF students and their determination to succeed. During the past year, they also overcame the obstacles created by the pandemic. Over 90 percent of WAEF students stayed on track this school year and achieved renewal of their scholarships for 2021 or will graduate in the spring.
Those gorgeous Washington apples license plates gracing vehicles across our state are making it possible to assist more students, helping them attend college and succeed with their academic and career goals. They bring recognition to our Central Washington communities and to the hard-working families involved in Washington’s tree fruit industry. If your vehicle isn’t already showcasing your community pride and supporting these students, please get yours at dol.wa.gov or learn more about the impact at waef.org. We’re aiming for 1,000 Washington apples license plates on the road by the end of 2021! •
—by Jennifer Witherbee
Jennifer Witherbee is the executive director of the Washington Apple Education Foundation. She can be reached at email@example.com.