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Bereavement Support

The number one trauma for young people who have been systems involved is the death of a friend or family member. This past year, EOLCP received the Vitalyst Health Foundation Systems Change Grant to help address this issue with community partners Tu Nudito and Goodwill Metro. Funds were used to create bereavement support groups for Opportunity Youth (16-to-24-year-olds who are not in school or working) in Southern AZ. Training will also be provided to Pima County Juvenile Court staff and probation officers, to identify youth who are in need of services. By strengthening the processes and available services around experience with death in the Youth population, these young people will be more likely to reconnect with society, instead of reconnecting with the criminal justice system.

Tim’s Story

This past year, Tim became involved with the ELDER Alliance and The Arizona End of Life Care Partnership (EOLCP), both anchored at United Way. The ELDER Alliance is a broad collaboration of community partners and residents aged 50+ advocating and designing solutions to improve quality of life for the older adult population. EOLCP is dedicated to creating a comprehensive network of end of life care support in Southern Arizona. “Not only does United Way support important social service non-profit organizations, but it also hosts important community organizing activities. I hope we can become a model for what a healthy, prosperous, and just community looks like and I admire the community organizing United Way of Tucson does to help connect the pieces to ensure a more equitable Southern Arizona.” - Tim Wernette

Robin’s VITA Experience

Robin is a single mother of two who has been using the VITA program for 3 years. When the pandemic hit, she turned to VITA’s new online platform, GetYourRefund.org. At first, it looked like Robin would owe money to the government. Additionally, Robin was struggling with securing consistent childcare, due to the pandemic, and she often had to miss work or pay double for her children’s care, resulting in adverse pay. Robin’s VITA Volunteer spent hours doing research on current tax laws. He found that due to her experiences of adverse pay, instead of owing money, Robin and her family qualified for a significant refund. “I’m so appreciative of VITA’s efforts, I know if I’d paid someone to do my taxes, I wouldn’t have had the same result. Thank you for providing this amazing program.” - Robin

VITA In A Shutdown

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program through United Way of Tucson provides free, quality tax preparation by IRS-certified preparers for individuals and families earning up to $66,000 annually. In 2020, we had to reimagine how to best get our services out into the community during a pandemic. VITA was able to partner with GetYourRefund.org to replicate the VITA experience virtually, ensuring the safety of all taxpayers and program volunteers. The online system allowed us to reach more people and process returns more efficiently. This past year, we were able to file 14,180 tax returns for low-income working families, resulting in $26 million dollars in federal refunds returned to the community.

Taia’s Story

Taia is a member of the United Youth Leadership Council (UYLC), a partner organization of United Way of Tucson, that works to continuously improve employment and educational systems to better serve Opportunity Youth (16-to-24-year -olds who are not in school or working). Additionally, the UYLC is dedicated to improving the juvenile justice and child welfare systems to achieve positive outcomes for youth who are system involved. “This work is important because we provide a voice to a group of people society tends to neglect. This is especially necessary right now with the tragedy of COVID-19. Currently, we’re making hygiene packets for the youth since not everybody has access to a sink or other basics. Knowing we’re making things accessible is really great for our community.” - Taia Thomas

COVID Pivot

My Summer Library is a program coordinated by United Way of Tucson that works to distribute 12 free books to thousands of children at local schools for them to keep. This work is geared to promote literacy and to help mitigate summer learning loss. For many children, these will be the first books they own. After schools closed in March of 2020, we had to find new ways of delivering more than 24,000 books safely to 14 partner schools. Since schools were closed, many of the books were first delivered from Scholastic warehouse to My Summer Library program manager Jessica Novak’s home garage. She and her son, Anderson, sorted and boxed thousands of books to be delivered to each individual school. They showed their true commitment to education and their willingness to help reach students in need.

Sonia’s Story

Sonia is a 33-year-old mother of two, Ikuzo and Michael, and helps support Savannah, her step daughter, with her husband Jeffery Schmitz. Sonia moved from Rwanda to Tucson four years ago and is currently enrolled in the LPN course at Pima Community College. When she first moved to America with her husband they found out they would be expecting a child and Sonia was worried about not having family there for her first pregnancy. Looking for community support, Sonia and her husband became involved with Healthy Families, a program supported by United Way of Tucson which provides free in-home assistance and education on parenting techniques. “I was a new Mom and had no family to help, Healthy Families came to our apartment and gave me information on what to expect for every trimester and techniques to help raise and play with the kids. I'm so grateful to United Way and the help they continue to provide for my entire family." - Sonia Schmitz