Fresh start for children of Utah inmates; Willy the Plumber scholarship

Image by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

WEST VALLEY CITY – The Willy the Plumber scholarship offers a chance to pursue higher education for an often-neglected demographic: Children of prison inmates.

Karl Winsness with daughters Lisa Curtis (left) and Jamie Lee, West Valley City, Utah, Sep. 30, 2012 | Photo courtesy of Karl Winsness

Families suffer great financial strain when one or more parents are incarcerated. This continues after release, as former inmates’ earning potential decreases due to their prison record. Consequently, higher education is often out of reach for children of inmates.

During his 17 years in prison, scholarship creator and owner of Karl’s Affordable Plumbing, Karl “Willy” Winsness, witnessed firsthand the impact his incarceration had on his two daughters, Lisa Curtis and Jamie Lee. They desired to continue their education, but faced many obstacles due to the family’s financial situation. Their struggles inspired Winsness to create a scholarship to assist what he said are “the forgotten victims of crime.”

Winsness has partnered with the Community Foundation of Utah, a statewide nonprofit organization focusing on community development, to offer the Willy the Plumber Scholarship for the 2013-2014 school year. Recipients will be awarded $1,000 if they attend a two or four-year college or university, or $500 if they attend a vocational or technical school.

“This is the first scholarship of (its kind), which specifically speaks to the needs of children in this specific circumstance who experience hardships through no fault of their own,” Donor Relations and Projects Manager Hilary Wilson said.

Applications are currently being accepted and must be submitted by Feb. 28. The form can be downloaded online and mailed, or e-mailed, to the Community Foundation of Utah.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must:

  • Be a Utah resident
  • Have graduated or are about to graduate from an accredited Utah high school
  • Have a grade point average of 2.0 or higher; preference is given to students with a 3.0 or higher
  • Be attending or planning to attend an accredited two or four-year college or university or technical school; online or for-profit schools are ineligible
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Show proof that one or more parents or guardians are currently incarcerated and/or have a history of being incarcerated
Karl Winsness with the Karl’s Affordable Plumbing van, West Valley City, Utah, Jul. 28, 2012 | Photo courtesy of Karl Winsness

Recipients will be chosen by a scholarship committee in March and notified the following month. The scholarship will be given directly to the institution of the winning students’ choice in August.

Only two scholarships will be awarded for this school year, but Winsness and the Community Foundation of Utah are actively seeking donations to grow the fund. Winsness plans to appeal to Utah’s more than 6,000 inmates for a large portion of those donations. If one-third of those inmates donates $5 per year, he said, four additional scholarships could be provided. He will also continue to contribute as much as he can from the profits of his business.

By offering the scholarship to students in this difficult situation, Winsness hopes they will be motivated to not only succeed in their education, but in all aspects of life.

“(These young people) are victims of their parents’ bad choices, and sometimes the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to give them a chance and an incentive to do better. Who’s to say that the next Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor couldn’t be the child of a Utah inmate?”

“We believe this grant reaches a population not spoken about except with regards to negative statistics about following their parents into incarceration,” Community Foundation Board Secretary Jeramy Lund said. “This scholarship is about breaking the cycle.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Image by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News
Image by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

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  • Karl Winsness January 23, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    A fantastic job by Alexa, on a small but much needed Scholarship. I hope that every kid in Utah with an incarcerated parent, Utah inmate and school counselor knows about this Scholarship. And if anybody else wants to list their Scholarship on that website check out how on the Willy the Plumber website itself.

  • Ace March 1, 2014 at 11:46 am

    This guy shot and nearly killed a cop in 1988. He’s never apologized for his actions. I hope he burns in …
    Ed. ellipsis

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