RealSense Returns More Than $26 Million to Taxpayers in Northeast Florida
United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense initiative won the coveted United Way Worldwide Common Good Award during an international conference May 13. More than 1,800 community-based United Ways in 41 countries and territories had the opportunity to compete for the awards presented in the three categories of education, income and health – the building blocks to a good life.
Only presented to four domestic and international United Ways every other year, RealSense was specifically recognized for advancing the financial stability of families through strong collaborative efforts, effective use of data and successfully engaging volunteers and advocates.
"The recipients of these awards embody the core purpose of United Way," said Brian A. Gallagher, United Way Worldwide president and CEO. "Through hands-on efforts at the community level, United Way of Northeast Florida is bringing together individuals and resources in a common effort to build lasting change in income outcomes."
Along with financial education and counseling services, RealSense offers free tax preparation for qualifying individuals and small business owners through its partnership with the IRS and AARP Tax-Aide. During the 2014 tax season, RealSense helped 19,500 low- and moderate-income taxpayers claim $26 million dollars in tax refunds and assisted eligible taxpayers in claiming more than $8.1 million in Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC). With an eight percent increase in tax returns filed and an 11 percent increase in EITC dollars returned, this year’s results mark the 11th year of increased service to the community. The organization generated a community economic impact of $13.1 million.
“Each tax return represents an individual, a family, a household, an address, a child, a struggling adult, maybe a senior,” said Debbie Pierson, community market manager at Bank of America and RealSense steering committee chair. “With these dollars returned, hardworking families are better able to achieve their financial goals.”
This year, hardworking families saved an estimated $4.6 million in preparation fees. More than 400 RealSense volunteers, who prepare taxpayer returns at no charge, provided 31,000 hours of service at 58 free tax sites in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns counties.
“We are proud to serve a role in helping more than 19,500 families a year through free tax preparation, year-round financial education and counseling,” said Jeff Winkler, director of RealSense. “Eleven years of continuous growth speaks volumes about the caliber and commitment that our coalition partners and volunteers possess.”
The United Way Common Good Award winners demonstrate strong collaboration across a variety of sectors and are engaging stakeholders to develop outcome-focused strategies.
“Since its inception, RealSense continuously exhibited effective use of data to inform their strategies,” said Connie Hodges, president and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida. “The team earned this award through their dedication and outstanding service to the community, and I am honored to bring home United Way of Northeast Florida’s second highly-esteemed Common Good Award.”