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United Way of Northern California's Blog

How VITA Saves Barbara Time & Money

April 21, 2021Barbara Powell

Barbara Powell moved to Redding in 2013. A veteran and former business owner, Barbara never had to file taxes on her own until three years ago. “I completely got it wrong,” she admitted. “The IRS even wrote me a letter.” Fortunately, Barbara learned about United Way’s free tax preparation service, VITA, through the Veteran’s Administration.

“It was such a relief,” Barbara shared. The appointments only take between forty-five minutes to an hour depending on the extent of a person’s needs, which she really appreciates because it gives her more time to focus on school. “It’s a really organized program and really helpful, personable staff….I didn’t have to pay for the service and you find out right away how much your refund is.” Barbara said that she was pleasantly surprised to find out she was getting money back two years in a row thanks to the team at VITA.

This year, using VITA is easier than ever. “I just dropped it off and picked it up later when I was ready.” However, even with the added convenience, juggling school and getting her taxes done provided some unexpected obstacles. During her phone appointment, Barbara had to cut the call short to take care of a time sensitive matter with her school. “I trust the team to take care of everything even though I’m not sitting there with them because they’re very capable and know what they’re doing.”

Thankfully she knew her VITA preparer from the previous years. “I had worked with Camille the year before and I had also spoken to her the year before that,” Barbara said. “If you ever meet Camille, she’s the nicest person ever.” Camille and the VITA team took care of everything. They understand that many of their clients, like Barbara, are juggling work, family, school, and more. “She was so gracious! It probably endeared me even more to VITA and to the United Way and the efforts that they do to help our community.” 

To make an appointment with United Way of Northern California’s VITA team, call 530.241.7521. All appointments are virtual this year, which means you don’t have to be in Redding, or even Shasta County, to take advantage of VITA. While the drop-off services are limited to folks who make  $66,000 or less annually, MyFreeTaxes.org, the online version, is available to anyone regardless of their income.


The Slater Fire: Rita's Story

March 30, 2021Rita Manley-King

"If it wasn't for Listos, we would've lost hundreds of lives that day," Rita Manley-King recounted in the weeks after the devastating Slater Fire hit the community of Happy Camp, California. "The evacuation has gone out. Everybody has got the text from 2-1-1. They know [the fire] is coming," Rita shared, "I ran downtown to check on friends and family and I had just seen a woman who I had known for years. She is in her bathrobe, her children are in their pajamas. She is looking at me...in shock and she's like 'we just lost everything we own. The entire ranch is gone.'" At that moment, the Listos Disaster Preparedness Training kicked in for someone across the street, she recalls.

Months earlier, United Way of Northern California's 2-1-1 Program Specialist, Jacqueline Nushi, was making her way through Siskiyou County communities with boxes of the Listos Disaster Preparedness Guide. "These people who took the training, they still carry around their disaster guides. I even had one lady say that this was her bible," Jacque shared. "You just see such a difference in people who...took that hour training.... They are so much more relaxed and at peace even though they lost everything."

In the moment it was needed most, disaster preparedness training became a rallying cry. Rita said, "That training gave a few people the edge to move the rest of the group on. You never know who's going to step up during a situation like that."

Your support of UWNC not only helps communities prepare for potential disasters, it helps families rebuild their homes, provides food & shelter to evacuees, and gives people hope when they need it most. Learn more about Rita's story and disaster preparedness at NorCalUnited.co/youtube.


Camp Fire Survivor Receives Housing & Hope

March 8, 2021Woman and dog

In early March, United Way of Northern California’s Disaster Response team received an inspiring story of success from a local case manager we had been working with:

After surviving the Camp Fire, my 73-year-old female client lived in a FEMA trailer for most of the following two years. She searched for a new home to rent that would allow her dog, hoping to stay in Butte County, but the search was difficult.

In January 2021, she finally found a place in Gridley that she financially qualified for. She applied for the two bedroom [apartment] that was available and found out that, as a Camp Fire survivor, she was considered priority!

Meanwhile, her FEMA worker was pushing for her to move out [of her trailer]. I spoke with the FEMA worker a couple of times a week to let her know that my client was doing everything she could. Unfortunately, there are not many local housing options for someone on Social Security. Her FEMA worker appreciated the updates and was able to push back the 15-day leave letter for quite awhile, but it was still coming. My client's new date to move out of her trailer was March 3rd, 2021.

On February 19th, my client received the amazing news that everything was approved for her to move into her new apartment...on March 1st! This didn’t give us much time to apply for the available funding to help with first months’ rent and deposit, so we started working on it right away. I received everything needed from the office manager to apply to United Way of Northern California's amazing S.H.O.P. program (Stable Housing Opportunities Program) by the following Tuesday, but an unexpected expense of $350 presented an additional problem. My client called crying, and stated that she didn't have the funds to cover it. This could ruin all the work we had done! I immediately contacted the utility company in Gridley and a fantastic woman named Sandra, was able to get me the bill and a W9 by Wednesday morning, allowing me to update the S.H.O.P. application to include the new expense. Then, we waited.

On the morning of February 26th, a Friday, I received an email that a check was waiting for me. (What a wonderful way to start a Friday!) I called my client and the office manager for her new apartment to share the exciting news. My client was overjoyed! She was terrified that she might have to live in her truck with her dog, and she prayed over and over that everything would work out, and it did.

My client and her dog are now living happily in their new home. She says she loves being close to town but not too close and she is appreciative of United Way of Northern California’s S.H.O.P. program, knowing that none of this could have happened if you weren't there. (And so quickly, too!) The checks came through only two days after applying. If that hadn’t happened, we don't know where my client would be. This has been one of many times that S.H.O.P. has saved the day!

Thank you so much for all you do at United Way for our survivors! They just need a step up and you have been there for so many of them. Thank you!

For more stories on our work with wildfire recovery, check out our YouTube channel at NorCalUnited.co/youtube.