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Empowering Communities: A Journey of Service with United Way of Tucson’s VITA Program

In the midst of the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon resides Supai Village, home to the Havasupai Nation—a community facing unique challenges that Dale, a retiree seeking purpose, discovered through an unexpected avenue. Dale’s journey began with a conversation with his wife, a CPA in Scottsdale, and a realization that the Havasupai people in Supai Village needed assistance with tax preparation. United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program became the conduit through which Dale embarked on a transformative mission to support and uplift the Havasupai community.

The challenges were significant as the VITA team sought to provide tax assistance to a village cut off from the outside world, with limited phone service and mail that was still being delivered by mules. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic further complicated matters, forcing the team to adapt and conduct tax preparation through pencil and paper. Despite these hurdles, Dale and his team completed an impressive 50 Federal and 50 State returns in 2020, showcasing their unwavering commitment to the community. 

“The first year we provided services, the trust in tax preparer’s coming from outside the tribe wasn’t there. There was a young tribal woman who had three children and she was in an abusive relationship. Eventually her husband left the village leaving his family destitute with no income and three children to take care of. When she tried to file her taxes that year, the husband refused to participate and she was pretty distraught. The tribe reached out to see if there was anything VITA could do to help her. Her VITA tax preparer was able to step in to help file her taxes and get her family three years’ worth of tax refunds back along with federal stimulus grants and child tax credits. In the end she received a refund of $28,000. She was so relieved and the tribe was able to start trusting us a bit more that we were truly there to help.”

This year marked a turning point as Dale and the VITA team plan their second in-person visit to Supai Village. The generosity of the Havasupai Nation is evident as they offer the use of their helicopter for transportation and provide free lodging to the tax preparers. Dale’s team anticipates assisting over 100 families, many of whom have back taxes to file.

MLK Day of Service at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

Dale expresses deep gratitude for being part of the United Way of Tucson’s VITA team and working closely with the Havasupai Nation. The experience has been transformative, offering Dale the chance to contribute to a community in need while immersing himself in the rich culture of the Havasupai people. As he eagerly anticipates his return to Supai Village, Dale’s story stands as an invitation to others to consider volunteering with VITA—an enriching and impactful way to give back to communities and make a meaningful difference in the lives of those facing unique challenges.

United Way of Tucson is committed to improving educational and life outcomes for children, youth and young adults by advancing equity and excellence in education. If you’re interested in learning more or volunteering with our VITA team, you can visit our VITA page here.

 

“Volunteering with United Way of Tucson’s VITA program has been a truly transformative experience. It has been a privilege and an honor working with the Havasupai Nation and providing this service that can be life-changing for some people.”

Dale

VITA Volunteer