Community Voice: Ivonne Sonato-Vega - United Ways of California

Community Voice: Ivonne Sonato-Vega

Friday, April 26, 2024

Read time: 3 minutes

Ivonne Sonato-Vega is a mother of five, a healthcare professional, a United Ways of California Ambassador, a long-time user of VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) services, and an avid supporter of United Way of the Wine Country. Here, Ivonne shares more about her family and their experience with VITA. 

I’m very family-oriented. Our family does everything together—go to church on Sundays, watch TV or movies, go out to eat, go to the store. I think the only time we’re not together is when we go to work!  

I’ve been blessed with really good kids. Teaching them how important family is and having them so close to me is so important to me. It amazes me just seeing them how much they grow—from the time they’re growing in your belly to when they’re born and having them do

Above all, I want my kids to be happy. I want them to reach their goals. I want them to know that they’re not alone in this world, that we’re always going to be there for them. That’s what drives me as a mom.

In addition to loving spending time with my family, I also love giving back to my community and love to help out in any way I can. I think it’s important to help our communities learn about the tax filing process and about tax credits. In the Hispanic community, there is a lack of information. I want to make sure that my community knows about resources available through trusted programs like United Ways of California’s, and that they learn through the process so that they feel empowered. So, I share the story of how I came to free tax prep and why I still use it.

In 2017, my brother told me to call 211 and make an appointment with VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) for free tax prep. My response: There’s no such thing as that! But he told me he had been using VITA for years. So I made the call, and I’ve been using VITA through United Way of the Wine Country ever since. 

Getting my taxes done now is so easy. I just take my documents to VITA, and my information from previous years is already there. I trust the VITA volunteers, too. I feel like my taxes are always done correctly. It’s also comforting to know that the volunteers are trained and certified by the IRS; they don’t just take one class and then start preparing your taxes. 

Before coming to VITA, I was using a paid tax preparer and paying about $425. When I came to United Way that first year, I found out that the paid preparer hadn’t done my taxes correctly. United Way’s VITA volunteers helped me submit an amendment so I could get a bigger refund for that previous year. That extra money really helped me, especially because we were living paycheck to paycheck and helping out our parents in addition to supporting our own young family. We were able to put aside some of that money to save for the future.

Before using VITA, I always got letters from the IRS saying something was missing or wrong. Since using VITA, I haven’t had any of those letters come in. 

It’s such a weight taken off of you knowing that your taxes are being done correctly.

California right now is just so expensive. I think the biggest challenge that I’ve seen in our community has been cost of living—rent, housing. It’s hard especially with gas and grocery prices going up. My goal is to not owe taxes, because we’ve already spent what we’ve earned on necessary expenses. Even with two incomes, living in California is so expensive. I always look at ways to save. VITA is free and saves me hundreds of dollars I would have had to pay someone to do my taxes. They also help me ensure I get all my available tax credits and maximize my tax refund every year. That money can be used on so many important things to help my family. 

United Way of the Wine Country also helped me learn different ways to save money, and I’ve gotten really good at it. I’ve even become part of the United Way family. They have been nothing but great to me and have helped in so many ways beyond just free tax prep.

United Ways of California and the California United Way Network connect eligible Californians like Ivonne to life-changing tax credits through free tax filing assistance programs. Fill out this quick form to tell California leaders to protect $20M in free tax prep outreach programs in your backyard.

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