Watch CBS News

Offering a chance for college to kids whose parents are incarcerated

Plumber scholarships
Plumber funds scholarship for children of convicts 02:46

Cy Lindberg wasn't sure he'd ever pack up for the drive to Snow College.

"College was stressful because I was always thinking like, 'How am I going to make up the money to go?'" Cy said. 

He was just 5 years old when his father was sent to prison. Even the cost of an in-state school seemed out of reach.

Cy Lindberg received a Willy the Plumber scholarship. CBS News

 "Mom comes in, she goes, 'You got the scholarship,' and I was like, 'I can go to college,'" Cy said.

The philanthropist behind Cy's scholarship was Karl Winsness.

"Most of the time you think of philanthropist, you know, Rockefeller, people with big money," Karl said.
Karl is a plumber in Salt Lake City, and for the last five years, the source of one of the country's only scholarships for kids with incarcerated parents.

Karl Winsness and one of the students he helped with a Willy the Plumber scholarship. CBS News

"These kids haven't done anything wrong," Karl said.

He solicits donations with homemade fliers, but mostly the money has come out of his own $30,000 salary.

"I don't smoke, I don't drink from Starbucks, I don't have HBO," he said. "So I mean, I don't waste a lot of money on that stuff, so seriously, what's $1,000?" 

$1,000 is the amount of most of the 17 "Willy the Plumber" scholarships Karl has given to Utah students.

And if that doesn't sound like a lot, you've never been where Macie Nielson was.

"A thousand dollars was a huge deal," she said.

Macie Nielson was raised by her grandparents after her parents were sent to prison. The $1,000 Willy the Plumber scholarship helped her go to college. CBS News

Her application essay explained that her dad and mom were sent to jail. "I never got to give my parents a hug or have them tuck me in," she wrote. Her grandparents raised her.

"I moved in when I was 5," she said. It's pretty much home to her.

But in truth, the money is only part of the prize for a kid like Macie.

"You get really down on yourself, people judge you and you just feel like you can't do anything," Macie said. "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."

The "Willy the Plumbership" scholarships help kids with incerated parents go to his college.  CBS News

Karl knows what it means for a parent to be absent. He shot an intruder who turned out to be a police officer, and served 17 years, unable to support his own two daughters.

"It's nice to be able to give back or correct wrongs," he said. "Maybe it's all just part of the healing process."

Karl says the money he sends to kids like Cy helps ease the anger of all those wasted years.

"You know, I'm very grateful for this opportunity to go," Cy said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.