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United Way of Santa Barbara County Forges Financial Empowerment Partnership

Banks, nonprofits and schools will collaborate to provide free tax preparation for low-income families and financial literacy workshops

Volunteer Bob Correa has been helping low-income families prepare their taxes for free for more than 30 years and helped launch the Volunteers Income Tax Assistance program in Santa Barbara County.

As United Way of Santa Barbara County announced the new coordination of the VITA services and financial literacy workshops, Frank Quezeda of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara says it wouldn’t have been possible without volunteers like Correa.

“The reasons why these programs are successful is not because the coordinators or the organizations but the volunteers,” Quezeda told local officials and community leaders at the United Way offices Wednesday. “I want to recognize our long-standing volunteer who has been doing this for over 30 years. Without Bob, the VITA program wouldn’t exist.”

The Financial Empowerment Partnership is a collaboration of local high schools, nonprofits and banks that offers free tax preparation for low-income families and financial literacy workshops.

Last year, the program served 2,161 families in Santa Barbara County, amounting to $4.14 million in tax refunds, United Way CEO and President Paul Didier said.

“The numbers are astonishing. This is money on the table that rightfully belongs to residents of the community,” Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said. “It’s fair that they get the money that’s owed to them so they can have their lives be as self-sustainable as possible, so they can afford health care, educational tools and basic needs. A program like this creates a better community.”

United Way, Montecito Bank & Trust and the Housing Authority provide a series of financial literacy workshops for students and adults.

“This program and partnership have hosted financial literacy classes that make sure more of the participants have savings account so they can save for their kid’s college education and plan for retirement,” Didier said. “It’s all about creating long-term financial assets so they can become a part of the community.”

There are nine VITA sites throughout the county, including the Carpinteria Children’s Project at Main, United Way of Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley Community Center.

United Way will also host four “Mega Tax Days” in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Isla Vista that will offer financial literacy resources, special offers on savings and checking accounts, and support from various nonprofits and businesses.

“They give families the tools they need in order to put these refunds to work by saving and building a stronger financial future,” Montecito Bank & Trust President and CEO Janet Garufis said. “Families learn how to use a bank, how to balance a budget, the importance of saving, and the benefits and risks of credit.”

Other community leaders attended the announcement, including representatives for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and county Supervisor Salud Carbajal, county Clerk-Recorder Joseph Holland, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, Dos Pueblos High School and the Santa Barbara High School Dons Net Café.

Contributing partners include Montecito Bank & Trust, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Community West Bank, the Housing Authority and the Carpinteria Children Project at Main.

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook and Pinterest.

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