Community Voice: Sandra Perez  - United Ways of California

Community Voice: Sandra Perez 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Read time: 4 minutes

Salinas, California

Sandra Perez is a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) client, VITA volunteer, and United Ways of California Ambassador. She has three adult children and loves helping her community and spending time with her Yorkie. Here, Sandra shares more about her experience with VITA, why she volunteers, and why she’s passionate about connecting her community with resources and information.

I came to the U.S. when I was 18. It was a culture shock. Family separation, language barriers, the unknown—it was hard. When I had my son, I saw how different the school system here is, so now I try to help others who are new here know that and know how to help their kids get what they need in school. I wish I would have known before what I know now. So I try to help people who are in similar situations.

As a single parent of three kids, I’ve struggled a lot financially. There have been times I’ve had to work two jobs. There’s always an expense I need to cover, like a medical bill or car repair. Sometimes I have to borrow money from my sisters. When I get a tax refund, that’s the only time I can pay those loans back.

In 2019, I used free tax preparation assistance with United Way for the first time. I took my documents to the drop-off site at the United Way Monterey County office here in Salinas. I even took my son; it was his first year doing taxes. We dropped off our documents and then went back a week later and got our finished taxes. My refunds came a week later.

It was fast, easy, and totally free. I saved the money I would normally spend paying someone to do my taxes. People can save more than $100 just by doing their taxes with VITA. That’s a week’s worth of food for a lot of families, especially valuable for me as a single mother.

The VITA drop-off site has been working well for me, but I wished I could do something to help more people get their taxes done in person. Later I got a message asking if I wanted to volunteer. I thought, “This is a chance to learn how to do something different, something I have never done before and that can go back to helping my community.”

I completed the free training and am a VITA volunteer this year. A lot of families I’m working with have used in-person VITA before and are happy to go back. I can see their big smile as soon as they find out they’re getting a refund. I’m glad to be able to help.

I work at a middle school, and I talk to a lot of parents at my job. Every time I have a parent in my office, I ask if they have done their taxes, and then we start talking about VITA. I tell them it’s really simple, they can get their taxes done for free, and they might get credits. A lot of families tell me later that they took my advice and used VITA and had a good experience.

We have a few parents who tell me they don’t have a social security number. They’ve been working for years but haven’t been required to file tax returns. So, I tell them that, at VITA sites, United Way can help them get an ITIN, a number the IRS provides that is like a social security number that you can use to do your taxes. Then you can get tax credits you might be eligible for. And then I tell them, “This is going to help you in the future if you want to apply for a green card, since immigration is going to ask you for proof of your taxes.” Also, for parents who have high school students, I tell them that if they’re planning to go to college, tax returns are needed to apply for FAFSA, to get free money for college.

You build trust with the community after working with them for a long time. So if I tell members of my community that VITA is good, that they’re going to save money, that they’ll get their full refund back, they know that it is true.

I am glad to be able to help my community in this way.

My biggest hope as a mom is that my kids are happy and always remember where they came from.

United Ways of California and the California United Way Network connect eligible Californians to life-changing tax credits through free tax filing assistance programs. Learn more about free tax help, as well as the ITIN application process, at

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