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Plumber, Former Inmate Starts Scholarship for Kids With Parents in Prison

Karl Winsness is just a simple plumber in Salt Lake City earning about $30,000 a year. But for the past five years, he has been providing teens with parents in prison a scholarship for college.



Dubbed as the “Willy the Plumber Scholarship”, Winsness is giving out $1,000 each to students in Utah to help them go to college. So far, the plumber is supporting 17 scholars.

Winsness is not earning millions as other philanthropists do but he tries to live a humble lifestyle to save money, apart from asking for donations, to support the students.

“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink from Starbucks, I don’t have HBO,” Winsness told CBS News. “So, I mean, I don’t waste a lot of money on that stuff, so seriously, what’s $1,000?”


Salt Lake City Weekly

While a thousand dollars may not seem a lot for most people, the recipients are grateful and overwhelmed by the plumber’s scholarships.

“A thousand dollars was a huge deal,” said Macie Nielson, a Willy the Plumber scholar whose parents have both been in jail since she was five years old. Nielson lives with her grandparents and shared that the scholarship gave her so much more than just its financial value.

“You get really down on yourself, people judge you and you just feel like you can’t do anything. And all of a sudden you have this random stranger who believes in you and knows that you’re not who your parents are, and you do have a chance,” Nielson said.


(Left) St. George News | (Right) People

Winsness knew firsthand how difficult it was to lack parental support when a parent is imprisoned considering that he served 17 years for shooting an intruder who turned out to be a police officer and because of this, he was not able to financially support his two daughters.

The plumber shared that through his scholarship project, he has been given the chance to correct a wrong and to heal from the anger and pain as well.

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