Spotlight on VITA Coordinator, Diana Clay

United Way Hero Written by: Amy Williamson, Financial Stability Program Officer

Last year at about this time, I was thrilled that our United Way decided to take on the leadership role for Sacramento’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition at the request of Community Link, which ran it for its first decade.

VITA is an amazing program that saves thousands of local low-income families lots of money by offering free filing by IRS-certified volunteers, and also helps them claim (collectively) millions of dollars through the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits. Households who file through VITA get average refunds of more than $2,000, and some get as much as $6,000. My job is to help people build financial stability, and that money goes a long way toward that end.

Sounds great, right? And it is. But while I was thrilled, I was also a bit daunted to say the least. VITA is a very complex endeavor and I knew we needed to bring in the right expertise. While I was immediately thinking about the fundraising I’d need to do, I got an invitation to last year’s tax season wrap-up and debrief at our local IRS office. It was there that Diana Clay introduced herself to me.

I remember it vividly. She was very cheery, with a twinkle in her eye.

“I heard you guys at United Way are taking on VITA,” she said. “Let me know if you’d like to me to come back next year to coordinate.”

Honestly, she looked like Charlie opening that candy bar to look for the golden ticket to the chocolate factory. This was a woman who clearly loves taxes.

After retiring a few years back from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate’s Office and many years as a VITA volunteer, she had stepped in as a local VITA Coordinator in January 2015, when Community Link’s staff person left.

Thankfully, soon after I met Diana our fundraising efforts began to bear fruit (thanks to Citi Community Development, Wells Fargo, First Northern Bank, SAFE Credit Union, Internal Revenue Service and SMUD!) and we were able to bring her on contract starting in September, giving us time to work together to get everything ready for the filing season.

The ensuing months have been astonishingly smooth and successful. I expected our first year to be a little bit bumpy as a learning year, but thanks to Diana’s skill and experience we easily exceeded our growth goal with a minimum of fuss. In large part this is due to the hard work and dedication of the members of the Sacramento Coalition for Working Families, who spent ten years creating a robust and sustainable VITA program here. I am so grateful to the Coalition, and I can’t imagine a better person to have helped us take on the lead than Diana.

At a bit of a loss for words to explain just how great she has been, I sent a message to some key VITA partners asking them to describe working with Diana this tax season. All I can say to all of these comments is ditto-plus! Thank you Diana!

“Diana has done an amazing job of organizing the volunteers, preparing them, coaching them and being on top of all the details that are required to run the VITA program in Sacramento. She does all this with an amazing grace and positive attitude. It’s a pleasure to work with Diana and I’m sure everyone agrees!”
- Mary Lynn Perry, Volunteer Coordinator, City of Sacramento

“We have been a part of scheduling appointments for the VITA program for the past eight years. Working with several VITA coordinators in her capacity, never was the relationship stronger than with Diana’s work. Always approachable, always open to suggestion, always calm under a very stressful season. Thanks Diana, for all you bring to the VITA/211 partnership.”
- Bob Diercks, Manager – Call Center, 2-1-1 Sacramento, Community Link Capital Region

“Diana has been an absolute charm to work with. She is always available when you need it, whether it’s an early phone call, or late email. She is always genuinely concerned for the people she works with and is so dedicated to making the VITA events as successful as possible. She did an outstanding job in leading a very successful year on this wonderful project. SMUD is proud to be a partner with you Diana. We couldn’t have asked for a better person to lead these efforts.”
- Leslie Adorno De Chacing, Product Services Specialist/Customer Program Outreach Coordinator, SMUD

“Diana was amazing to work with because she always made sure that everyone was happy and comfortable with what they were doing.”
- Kalene Fowler, AmeriCorps NCCC Class 22, Blue 5

“During my time with the VITA program, Diana Clay was wholly supportive of my team and I’s needs and listened to our concerns with the utmost of empathy. She was quick to adjust our schedules in order to meet our needs. In retrospect, every question that we asked was blatantly unintellectual, but Diana answered them with patience and joy. I am confident that the Sacramento VITA program runs so smoothly thanks to the hard work and dedication of caring people like her. Diana is truly a diamond in the Clay.”
-Ben Mack, AmeriCorps NCCC Class 22, Blue 5

“She goes above and beyond her normal duties. She’d be willing to jump in her car and help out at DHA Fulton whenever we got swamped. She even gave me a ride home last Saturday. She’s awesome.”
- Alex Kurdyomov, Site Coordinator, Department of Human Assistance

“Only ONE positive experience? Problem is every experience with Diana is positive. Never was there an opportunity for something not to work. When hurdles presented themselves, Diana course-corrected and overcame. She continued to put on a smile no matter what, and continues to be completely humble about the great work she has done for our community. If I had to say it in a few words…I want to be like Diana when I grow up.”
-
Richard Abrusci, VP of Operations and Director, 2-1-1 Sacramento, Goodwill Industries Sacramento Valley & N. NV

“Diana brought the VITA program to a new level of professionalism, organization and collaboration. Her tireless commitment helped this program succeed to the levels in which it did this year. She is a VITA Warrior!”
- Amanda Merz, Financial Education Manager, SAFE Credit Union

“I started the first VITA program in Placer County this year. To start, Diana got a group together and we had a kick off Saturday event. I basically knew NOTHING!!! Diana was extremely patient, kind and over the top helpful. She continued to check in with me throughout the season, which was very successful. I really couldn’t have done this without her help on the first day. She is amazing!”
- Mary C. Barker, Program Educator, Department of Health and Human Services | Human Services Division, Placer County

“Although I have been working with Diana for many years, this year we worked together more closely than ever as she grew into her position as VITA Coordinator. If I had to choose one thing to say I admire about Diana I would have to say that I truly admire her positive, can do attitude. Diana was willing to learn and was all about getting the job done. And she did — with a smile and much gratitude.”
- Lorie A. Declarador, Outreach & Education Specialist, IRS-W&I: Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication