After running a successful manufacturing company in Spokane for nearly three decades, Muriel and Burke Blevins stepped away with a desire to impact the community meaningfully.
Recognizing the challenge of rising college tuition coupled with the hardships of unpaid internships on students in need and a shortage of skilled workers in the local labor force, the Blevinses created the Krumble Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping such people complete their education in the community they live in.
Burke Blevins, vice president of the Krumble Foundation and former president and CEO of Spokane manufacturer VPI Quality Windows Inc., says starting the charitable nonprofit was a simple decision for the couple.
“We sold VPI Quality Windows, and we were looking for a way to have an impact on the community going forward since we no longer had our business, which was a way to provide employment and socio-economic movement for the people who worked for us,” Blevins says. “We had to do something, so we set up the foundation.”
VPI Quality Windows was acquired by Charlotte, North Carolina-based building materials company Jeld-Wen Holding Inc. in 2019.
Blevins says it took him and his wife Muriel, who is president of the foundation, six months to settle on a cause to support once the decision to start a foundation was clear. At first, the couple considered supporting housing for the homeless due to their connections to construction materials businesses.
“But we decided, the best thing we could do was to help gritty people who had a financial need finish their education,” he says.
In Spokane County, the Krumble Foundation has partnered with Eastern Washington University and the Community Colleges of Spokane, providing nearly $2 million in support of the foundation’s mission to those two organizations to help students in need.
Last year at EWU, the Krumble Foundation pledged $1.35 million to support three of the foundation’s programs: the Krumble Foundation Internship Stipend Program, the Soaring Eagle Scholarship Fund, and the Krumble Micro-Grant Fund.
Blevins says he feels strongly that internships are important pathways for students on their way to landing their first real jobs after graduation. So, at EWU, the Krumble Foundation Internship Stipend Program was created to provide a one-time stipend for students in unpaid internships at nonprofits or government agencies.
The program provides support for a minimum of 12 students a year to participate in internships paying an hourly rate $15 over the course of the placement, or up to $3,000 per student.
“A student at Eastern many times can’t afford to take an internship, because they’d have to maybe give up their part-time job, and they can’t make do without their income stream,” Blevins contends. “It’s a way to give an opportunity to somebody who might not be able to take advantage of that.”
Laura Thayer, associate vice president of philanthropy at EWU, says the internship fund has made an important impact on students at the university already.
“We’re seeing that they are having success in getting jobs after college if they can get that internship under their belt,” Thayer claims.
The second program at EWU, the Soaring Eagle Scholarship Fund, assists up to 45 qualified juniors and seniors each with a $6,000 scholarship. The scholarships are need based, and students must demonstrate financial hardships, Blevins says.
“We want to keep them in school and help them cross the finish line,” he says, “Because you can imagine what not finishing college would be like and having a mountain of debt.”
Blevins says he learned in 2019 there were 82 students entering their last term at EWU who weren’t able to enroll due to owing $1,000 or more to the university. That inspired the Krumble Micro-Grant Fund, which is an annual $25,000 fund designed to help any student with $1,000 or more in unpaid tuition register for their last term in order to graduate. In the last two years, Blevins estimates the micro-grant fund has helped between 10 and 20 students.
Thayer describes working with the Krumble Foundation as a learning experience that has helped the university to understand its students better.
“It’s been a real pleasure to work with them, because they’re very interested in their relationship between their goals as philanthropists and outcomes,” Thayer contends. “We’re learning things about our students because of their work with us that’s very useful and valuable to make sure we achieve our goal, which is to graduate students with little or no debt and into exciting careers that benefit our communities.”
At EWU, the foundation doesn’t place any constraints on which subjects students can study to qualify for help. At the Community Colleges of Spokane, however, which received a $500,000 donation from the foundation in 2021, students must be enrolled in certain science, technology, engineering, and math programs to qualify for a scholarship award.
Heather Beebe-Stevens, executive director of philanthropy at CCS Foundation, says, “When we can find donor partners like the Krumble Foundation, it allows us to do our work so much better because they’re willing to look at what the students need and go there.”
Blevins says the foundation chose to stipulate STEM subject requirements for awards at CCS in order to bolster enrollment in programs with a solid income potential compared to the time and cost required to get the degree.
Beebe-Stevens says the eligible programs of study include health care, business, automotive, design, technology, and criminal justice.
“There were more job openings than there were candidates available in these 28 programs, and they could make a significant impact on somebody’s earning power,” Blevins says.
Beebe-Stevens adds that in the 2020-21 academic year, there were 24 students that received scholarships. This second year, there were only 21 students, a drop she attributes to declining enrollment.
The Blevinses were hesitant to include themselves in the foundation’s name and instead decided to honor the couple’s first business together, a Southern California bakery that opened in 1984 called Crumble’s Cookies.
“We didn’t want it to have our name in it, and we had to come up with something. Crumble with a ‘C’ was taken, so we went with Krumble with a ‘K,’” Blevins explains.
Plans for the foundation this year involve developing a way to measure the long-term effects the foundation has at EWU and CCS, potentially expanding charitable giving to regional vocational centers for high schoolers, and determining how to help the community in other areas of need.
Blevins says he’d like to make skilled trades a more interesting employment option to high schoolers as a way to bolster the local workforce.
“We see this as a great way to help the community build its knowledge and skilled base.”
The foundation has no other employees and is administered solely by the Blevinses, who are also the only members of the nonprofit’s board of directors. The foundation is operated out of the couple’s home on the upper South Hill.
“Our intent is to have something that goes on for a long, long time that is productive. We want to give the right amount to the right people, so they have an opportunity to make long-term socio-economic gains for themselves and their families.”
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