Holiday Drives Successful, Tax Prep Available, and the Health Benefits of Volunteering
BY CHRISTINE ROBERE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNITED WAY OF THE LAKESHORE
The New Year is officially here! Soon fitness centers will be bustling with people to start their resolution to have healthier habits; more people will prepare to travel with family and friends, and some people will begin to read that book that has collected dust on their shelf.
January is filled with the excitement of new beginnings and goal setting. As you ponder what will be your New Year’s Resolution, United Way of the Lakeshore would like to plant a seed to add impacting your community as a resolution. Consider giving, advocating, and volunteering.
Giving - It’s More Than What You Think. A gift to charity is not always what you may think. It is not just a transfer of cash flow from one entity to another, but a person that is impacted. A gift can sponsor a child to receive a book in the mail every month through the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Or a gift can sponsor a young underprivileged teen to get the chance to Ride United. Or a gift to charity can be the difference in keeping a family in their home after a crisis has struck or losing a loved one that was their only support. At United Way of the Lakeshore, you can give the gift of giving by clicking here.
Sometimes a gift is not a monetary amount, but a canned good, a coat, some hygiene products for a shelter, or even a blood donation. Between November and December, over 40 businesses collected coats across Muskegon, Oceana, and Newaygo counties for the United Way Fill the Truck Drive. As a result of this drive, 1,047 articles of winter apparel were collected and distributed to the Salvation Army, Mission for Area People, TrueNorth, and Mary’s Closet. In addition to this, several community members gave the gift of giving by adopting 55 families for Christmas that experienced a crisis this past holiday season. Families with stories like this one.
“My daughter passed away unexpectedly in July leaving behind three young boys. Their dad has never been in the picture, so as a grandmother I took over as their guardian. They have been through so much this year, and I just want to give them a Christmas they deserve, and I can’t afford to give it to them. The boys are 12, five, and three years old.”
Above, Team Babbitt’s adopted two of our families.
We’d like to thank all of the companies who participated. You can see a list and photos by clicking here.
Advocating – VITA Program. In the last three years, VITA West Michigan has processed over eight thousand tax returns and returned over 10 MILLION dollars to the community. VITA stands for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that began in 1969 and is sponsored by the IRS. Goodwill Industries of West Michigan began administering the grant program locally in Muskegon in 2007 and is a current funded agency partner of United Way of the Lakeshore.
VITA leverages volunteer power to ensure millions of lower-income working families – including those who are ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) – have access to free quality tax preparation, asset-building resources, and financial education services.
Last year, 2,619 tax returns were filed thanks to 40 volunteers who contributed over 2,000 hours of community service. Because of their hard work, $3,918,956 returned to our community (this is calculated by combining state and federal refunds and tax preparations fee savings). This money not only helped those low income individuals, but also fueled our local economy.
You can advocate for the VITA program in several different ways! You can be a volunteer and become a tax preparer at one of their seven sites. You can also encourage those who may not know how to file their taxes to call 2-1-1 to set up an appointment. Or you can call your senators on the Appropriations Committee and request an increase in funding for VITA for 2020!
Another way to advocate for your community is to become a Community Investment Volunteer through United Way of the Lakeshore. These volunteers help determine where the funds raised during the United Way’s annual campaign are invested. They review program applications, tour program sites and meet to discuss the program’s effectiveness. Call our office at (231) 332-4017 for more information!
Volunteering. Without the commitment of volunteers, our nonprofits could not exist. Behind every great agency, program, or event, volunteers made it all possible. This day and age volunteering has become easier than ever before! Many companies offer paid volunteer workdays off. There are digital volunteer opportunities that can be done right from your computer. And there are dozens of service clubs, fraternities, honor societies, collaborations and more, right here in your community needing your help.
On December 17, the United After Work and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) joined together at the Salvation Army to volunteer for the Holiday Toy Shop. This program helped 1,035 families receive gifts for their families for Christmas. The 19 volunteers from this retiree group made the program run with ease, even with so many families coming through the doors. Volunteers checked-in the families as they arrived. Then volunteers paired with families and helped guide them through the toy shop. They assisted the families in finding three age-appropriate toys per child, books, winter apparel, and a Christmas dinner. Younger volunteers even carried the gifts out the door and helped load the presents into the awaiting families’ cars.
The United Way of the Lakeshore’s Get Connected Volunteer Platform allows community members to explore different volunteer opportunities in their community online. There are currently 90 agencies listed for Muskegon County that offer volunteer opportunities. There are hundreds of opportunities that are listed that range from different types of work such as advocacy, clerical, education, food prep, in-kind, marketing, medical, physical labor, and social!
Studies have shown that volunteering can decrease your stress, increase your confidence and expand your connections. If you would like to volunteer, check out the Get Connected Volunteer Platform here.
Whatever your resolution is for 2020, in the leap year, we challenge you to do just a little more to help your fellow neighbor. Together, we build a brighter future.
United Way of the Lakeshore is uniting to inspire change and build thriving communities. Our Bold Goal – 10,000 more working families meet their basic needs by 2025. For more information, contact United Way of the Lakeshore at (231) 722-3134. Learn more about United Way of the Lakeshore at UnitedWayLakeshore.org, like the organization on Facebook and receive up to date information from Twitter at twitter.com/uwlakeshore.