Sarasota, Fla. (April 5, 2016) – Financially struggling Sarasota families are now buying homes, low-income high school students are successfully applying for federal grants for college, and hardworking tax payers are saving money on tax preparation, thanks to United Way Suncoast’s investment in the Sarasota community.
Last year, United Way Suncoast invested more than $1.8 million into the Sarasota region, helping residents achieve dreams of homeownership and assisting those struggling to meet basic needs.
“Our commitment to this community has never been stronger,” said Mireya Eavey, Sarasota Area President for United Way Suncoast. “The money raised in Sarasota is invested right here in the community. Thanks to the generosity of donors, we are privileged to continue to make an impact in so many ways.”
One of the newest programs launched is the United Way Suncoast’s Individual Development Account or IDA plan: a limited matched savings account program that helps low-income individuals achieve their goals of buying a home, attending school or opening a small business. Eligible participants who save money are rewarded with matched funds. In addition, they receive financial education and learn long-term money management skills.
United Way’s first local IDA success story involves George and Stefanie Cates, a Sarasota couple who credits the United Way Suncoast for helping them reach their dreams. With four children and with both working two jobs, the Cates struggled to save for a new home. They were forced to move several times when the homes they were renting either fell into foreclosure or went into short sale; they had to come up with a few thousand dollars to relocate each time.
Stefanie called Clearpoint, a United Way Suncoast partner, to help build their credit score in order to qualify for a mortgage. Clearpoint referred them to United Way’s IDA program, which led the way to home ownership.
“It’s so empowering to know that it’s your home and that you’ll have something to leave behind for your children,” said Stefanie Cates. “We are now able to build memories and provide stability for our kids.”
United Way Suncoast also saved families $275,000 through free tax preparation in 2015. Last year, trained volunteers prepared 1,373 tax returns for Sarasota residents who made under $62K a year. This free tax preparation program helped 26 percent more Sarasota and Desoto county residents than the previous year, and brought $1,726,083 back to the community through tax refunds.
United Way Suncoast also made a significant impact with its Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program, which assists students in applying for loans, grants and scholarships for college. Each year, more than $2 million in federal Pell Grants go left unclaimed by low-income Sarasota students. In 2015, United Way Suncoast came together with other local partners to increase awareness of available college funding.
As part of the community coalition, United Way Suncoast recruited and trained 32 volunteer “FAFSA” Helpers, who were attended coalition-sponsored FAFSA events across the county. Thanks to the efforts of all the partnering organizations, Sarasota County is now leading the state in FAFSA completion, with 33 percent of Sarasota County high school seniors completing the form as of March 11, an increase of 3.5% over last year.
‘United Way takes on the complex issues in our community and works collaboratively to bring together engaged stakeholders to create impactful outcomes,” said Eavey. “We work with local government, economic development, non-profit organizations and businesses to ensure that a variety of input and resources are at the table. Our relationships throughout Sarasota are true partnerships.”
2016 campaigns are still underway across Sarasota County.