Charting a Path to Financial Wellness
How United Way's programs are different than most out there.

Blog Stephanie McLemore Bray
June 2019 Blog Post

Philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

At our United Way, we strive to bring out the potential in everyone. Whether a child who is struggling to read, or an adult trying to make ends meet, we convene, we collaborate and we commit to helping people tap into their potential to live healthy, productive lives. This includes achieving financial wellness. 

For thirteen years, United Way has worked in collaboration with local government, non-profit organizations, businesses, and an army of volunteers to ensure that low and moderate income families don’t have to spend their hard-earned dollars on getting their taxes prepared. Through United Way’s Free Tax Prep Program, formerly known as VITA, we served over 9,000 families this past tax season and saved them a total of $1.8 million in tax prep fees. Over 21,000 volunteers at 49 sites in Sacramento, Yolo and Placer County helped families claim earned income tax credits that resulted in $11.3 million in total federal refunds. With the help of financial counselors who partner with our United Way throughout the year, families chart a path to financial wellness. Families used their refund dollars to pay off debt, purchase a more reliable vehicle, or in some cases move to a better neighborhood. This past tax season, hundreds of families used all or a portion of their refunds to open savings accounts for the first time, or to purchase savings bonds, totaling over $475,000 saved, and average of $1,214. 

Our United Way also helps families save for their children’s education through our Kindergarten to College Program, or K2C. This program was launched by Assemblyman and former Sacramento City Councilmember Kevin McCarty, along with SAFE Credit Union, at five schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District. In 2016, our United Way expanded this program to the five schools in the Robla School District, our Square One Program partner. In partnership with the City of Sacramento, and Every Kid Counts, a program administered by the California Student Aid Commission, we will create K2C accounts at six more schools for a total of sixteen in the City of Sacramento. Students at each of the 16 schools will receive a $25 seed for a college savings account, and a $50 match for $25 of family savings, plus a $100 incentive for attending a financial workshop.

The impact of college savings accounts can’t be understated. These accounts increase both the parents’ and children’s educational expectations and correlate with having a college-bound identity. College savings accounts improve attendance and standardized test results. Students are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate than those without a CSA account.

Both of these approaches-Free Tax Prep and K2C-are gateways to financial wellness and a pillar of our work to ensure strong support through our Square One Project.