apple plate

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the creation of the Washington apples specialty license plates by the Legislature. The first plates became available on July 1.

While promotion of the plates didn’t happen as planned last year due to the pandemic, we are still very pleased to share that there are 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 by Washington’s tree fruit industry to the state. Our entire region should take pride in the world-class reputation of Washington-grown tree fruits.

Industry and community recognition is important but not the only benefit being created with these specialty plates; $28 from every plate sold and renewed supports access to higher education through the Washington Apple Education Foundation. Annually the tree fruit industry awards over $1 million in scholarships to kids raised in industry families through WAEF. 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, students have shared how important WAEF support has been to them. WAEF outreach traditionally includes professional development workshops, career exploration events, semi-annual care packages and campus dinners. 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 this 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 others 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 and tree fruit production.

Eighty percent of WAEF scholarship recipients are first-generation college students. In most instances, their parents did not have the opportunity to attend college and in many instances 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.

This year they also overcame the obstacles created by the pandemic. Over 90% 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 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 www.dol.wa.gov or learn more about the impact at www.waef.org. We’re aiming for 1,000 apple plates on the road by the end of 2021!

Jennifer Witherbee is executive director of the Washington Apple Education Foundation.