To The Daily Sun,
Five years ago a group of dedicated individuals and organizations in the Lakes Region took a brave step toward a collaborative, community-based initiative known as the Financial Stability Partnership (FSP). With a focus on reducing poverty by 20 percent by 2020 in Belknap County, they worked to convene others with similar mindsets. This was difficult work that required community leaders to come together in new and innovative ways.
This year Granite United Way will be honoring these organizations with a Live United Award during their annual campaign celebration. Those agencies include the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region, Belknap Economic Development Council, Carey House/Salvation Army, Laconia Area Community Land Trust, Appalachian Mountain Teen Project, Health First Family Care Center, Lakes Region Child Care Services, Family Resource Center/Lakes Region Community Services and Mike Persson of Lawson Persson & Weldon-Francke, who provided tremendous leadership during this effort.
Since the inception of the FSP, we've invested nearly $750,000 in addressing poverty in Belknap County. This year additional steps were taken to increasing our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, including a site in Laconia where individuals could obtain free tax preparation by specially trained volunteers. Self-preparation was also encouraged through MyFreeTaxes services in partnership with local employers and social service entities. Facilitated self-preparation services was piloted on site at nine employers in Belknap County, where employees could complete their tax returns with assistance from IRS-certified program staff on site.
This effort had significant success with a 92 percent increase over last year, of which $125,717 was returned in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit and total refunds bringing $387,567 back into the pockets of Laconia residents like Sarah, who we had the opportunity to meet this year.
When Sarah worked with our volunteer tax preparer at the Laconia site she discovered that she was eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for taking care of her disabled sister. She told us she gave the volunteer a hug and cried when he told her she would be receiving more than $7,000 in her refund with the EITC. After further discussion, he helped her access the EITC for the previous years she had been caring for her sister. That visit to the VITA site helped Sarah bring thousands of dollars back into her bank account.
Granite United Way continues to be focused on reducing poverty and expand on the foundation that has been set by this group. With the FSP's three-year funding cycle completing this year, we will continue that collaborative spirit in addressing poverty in new ways. Over the past three years Granite United Way has made additional investments in the collective impact spirit by bringing training to the area by the Tamarack Institute, invested in the remodel of the kitchen at the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region and supported the fit-up of the Rivers Edge Early Learning (REEL) project, a collaboration between Lakes Region Child Care Services and Laconia Area Community Land Trust. During the past year, Granite United Way worked to recruit a strong, local volunteer leadership team known as the Community Impact Committee (CIC.) This group of fifteen local residents and stakeholders will be assessing current community needs and determining how to invest donor dollars from the United Way campaign.
We thank these individuals for their passion and enthusiasm.
The renewed focus will include providing access to primary health care, affordable quality childcare, affordable housing and mentoring low income youth to break the cycle of poverty.
There is still work to be done that requires looking at things with a different lens, but with the history of collaborative spirit backing us in Belknap County, we know can achieve great things when we Live United.
K. Mark Primeau, President and CEO
Bank of New Hampshire
Granite United Way Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors
Scoop Welch, Central Region Area Director
Granite United Way