VITA program served more Charlotte County residents in 2023
by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County
When tax season begins, the white gloves come out.
In 2023, 35 volunteers worked alongside United Way of Charlotte County (UWCC) staff to operate the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) for another successful season of free tax preparation in our community. They reviewed W2s and 1099s. They asked questions to determine tax credit eligibility. They double-checked Social Security numbers and addresses.
And they did it with grace and a smile.
Each volunteer takes pride in providing individualized service to every client. This tax season, we extended our appointment times to ensure our tax preparers could carefully process more complex returns. While this gave us fewer appointment slots, it allowed each client that special white glove service we want to be known for.
After filing his tax return, Derek received additional tax documents in the mail, and he needed to amend his tax return. Our team offered to schedule another appointment for Derek, but transportation was an issue, as he is elderly and blind. Karen put her white gloves on, drove to Derek’s home to retrieve the documents, and processed his amended return.
Michelle needed help with her taxes but was overwhelmed and hesitant about working with a stranger. Our intake team knew just how to ease her anxiety! They matched her with Ed, who bears a resemblance to Old Saint Nicholas. Ed put his white gloves on, worked with Michelle in his jolly way, and was able to inform her that she would be receiving a refund! She was thrilled with this news, and equally thrilled to have Santa as her tax preparer. She insisted on taking a photo with Ed, I mean, Santa, after their appointment was completed.
Julia called our VITA team to schedule an appointment after receiving a dividend payment she was unsure how to handle. Our telephone team put their white gloves on and assessed the situation. By the time the call was over, Julia had an appointment to have her income taxes prepared for free and she was linked to our United at Work program to help her with financial assistance to help with home repairs from Hurricane Ian.
No, our team does not have literal white gloves, but they do offer white glove service to every individual or couple who calls, emails or comes in for an appointment. And trust me when I say that it is a lot!
- Our 6-person telephone team made 1,150 phone calls to answer questions and schedule appointments.
- Our total 35-person volunteer team provided over 2,400 hours of service to Charlotte County between our Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda locations.
- And despite longer appointment times, our 2023 VITA program was able to get 714 income tax returns accepted – a 6% increase from last tax season.
Before my involvement with VITA, I don’t recall ever hearing someone say they looked forward to tax time. Our VITA volunteers sing a different tune. They get joy in serving this community each year and are eager to begin again when those W2s start coming. To them, it is an honor to put on their white gloves and make an impact one return at a time.
We were particularly honored this year by three individuals whose service shined above the rest. Jim Gaffney, Kate Blowers and Laura Rich were presented with the Spirit of VITA Award at our volunteer reception as a gesture of our appreciation for their dedication to the clients they served. This trio exemplifies the white glove service of UWCC’s VITA team.
This year we offered tax services in Punta Gorda at New Life in Christ Church. The church invited us into their “home” for another year to ensure we had a location that was convenient for Punta Gorda residents. Our main location at the Port Charlotte Family Services Center is part of an integrated service model, offering a no-wrong-door approach to human service programs. We are thrilled to have brought over 400 individuals and families into the Family Service Center through VITA.
In addition to our dedicated volunteer team, I wish to express my gratitude for the generous sponsors of this year’s VITA program. Wells Fargo, Centennial Bank, Fifth Third Bank and Truist Bank each provided financial support to help us achieve another year of free tax prep for low- and moderate-income families in Charlotte County.
To learn more about UWCC’s VITA program and how you can give help or get help, visit unitedwayccfl.org/VITA.
For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission: Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at email@example.com.