For me to have the passion necessary to raise money, I need to experience the program. That is how I found myself sitting in the back of a classroom at Getty’s Middle School the week before Christmas.
I was part of the “Getty’s University” Afterschool Program. They were knee-deep in Money Smart, a personal financial management program taught by United Way’s AmeriCorps Members.
Honestly, for many adults with compromised finances, Money Smart is a little late and the learning curve is steep. Not so for these middle schoolers. I’ve never seen such motivated, excited students.
They were loving it. And so was I … sort of.
The lesson was about interest rates. The students were presented a scenario where their salary was $500 a week. Everyone wanted a new laptop that cost $1,000. There were two options: get a loan at 20 percent interest or save $1,000 to pay cash.
The instructor taught them how to calculate the interest payment and the kids got it right away. They quickly reached the conclusion about how many extra hours they would have to work to pay an additional $200.
I resisted the urge to throw up my hand and say, “Yes, and that is why I can’t buy a new car even though I desperately want one!”
For the record, there is nothing wrong with my car, a 2009 Nissan Murano. It is paid for and runs well. It’s just something about that new car fever that I’ve had a hard time resisting.
United Way of Pickens County has been a part of the AmeriCorps Upstate since its inception in 2010. AmeriCorps is often described as the Peace Corps in America. Members work in local communities for a year and earn a small stipend and educational benefits. We are lucky to have six members in Pickens County placed in agencies throughout the county.
Their primary focus is to support United Way’s financial stability initiatives like Benefit Bank and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance also known as VITA. VITA is a program that helps low to moderate income families and individuals get their taxes prepared for free by IRS certified volunteers.
Last year, we successfully prepared over 1,200 tax returns and returned more than $1.3 million to Pickens County. Our tax payers claimed $143,223 in Childcare Tax Credits and $441,968 in Earned Income Tax Credits.
The Earned Income Tax Credits and Childcare Tax Credits help working families keep more of what they earn to pay for things like childcare, food and reliable transportation to get to work.
This has been a major priority for United Way and the focus of an intense year-long advocacy campaign supported by hundreds of United Ways around the country including United Way of Pickens County.
Our advocacy was successful and this year: President Obama made these two tax credits permanent.
It is important to note that last year, the average annual income for our “taxpayers” was $16,000 a year, well below the poverty level. More about that in another column.
VITA kicked off Jan. 28 and runs through April 18. Any Pickens County resident who earned $54,000 or less last year qualifies for VITA. Just call 2-1-1 or 1-866-892-9211 to schedule an appointment.
Our 2016 sites are all Pickens County libraries, Tri-County Technical College in Easley and Easley Goodwill. There are evening hours and we’re working Saturdays.
Remember, VITA is about financial stability. What you won’t get is a fast refund with high interest rates.
Just remember what we learned at Getty’s University: No laptop loan, no instant refund and no new car!
Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at [email protected] or 864-850-7094, extension 101.