In addition to the traditional crops of apples, cherries and pears harvested around central Washington each year, the tree fruit industry supports an annual “crop” of college-bound students.
The young men and women are the children of those employed in and connected to the tree fruit industry. The Washington Apple Education Foundation (WAEF) is the mechanism for industry members to support their college dreams.
This year, scholarships valued in excess of $600,000 were awarded to more than 150 students.
In addition to celebrating new scholarship recipients, we are also honoring our current-year college graduates. Nineteen students receiving WAEF scholarships for their undergraduate studies graduated this spring. Their stories are inspirational.
Each is unique but all seem to share the drive to overcome obstacles and a desire to make a difference in the lives of their family members, community and future generations.
My name is Jennifer Witherbee and I am the Foundation’s executive director. It is my privilege to get to showcase the stories of some of these exceptional young men and women to you over the next few months. The WAEF has grown annually over our 19-year life span. We are supported through voluntary contributions from growers, packers, shippers, suppliers and service professionals. Working together, WAEF is able to change lives through access to higher education.
Elena Calderon graduated from Wahluke High School in Mattawa in 2009. She continued her education at Eastern Washington University, selecting community health as her major. This summer Elena is working for Eastern before returning as a grad student. She is also working for WAEF on a special project to help us identify financial aid needs of our students.
Q: Do you recall when you decided you were college bound? What, or who, influenced your decision?
A: Since the age of 5, I grew up picking cherries alongside my family and I always dreaded the hard work, but it was specifically working in ag labor that made me realize I couldn’t do that forever and I had to pursue a college education. My second-grade teacher would always talk about college in my class and I knew then that I would be going to college. My older sister was the first in my family to attend college at Eastern Washington University, and she was my inspiration to follow in her footsteps. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health and a minor in Chicano studies.
Q: How do you see yourself making a difference?
A: I see myself going to back to my community and being a mentor and role model for students who think that because they are undocumented students, or lack the funding for higher education, they cannot attend college. I believe that education is a big determinant of health and want my community to have both! I would also like to start a scholarship fund for children of farmworkers because I know how hard it is to find scholarships and funding for college. I have already started this through the Washington Apple Education Foundation by giving out two $1,000 scholarships to students from my hometown. I received so much support from foundations and my community, I want to be that support for another student.
Q: What is your best advice for students looking to follow in your footsteps?
A: My best advice for students would be to never give up. Allow for the hardships in life to be what strengthen you the most and give you that driving passion to persevere. All of my experiences have shaped who I am today, and I value my education so much more because of that.
More about the Washington Apple Education Foundation can be found at www.waef.org.