Check out some of 2016’s lucky $100 winners!

We asked SaveYourRefund winners why they save, and here’s what they said:

SYR Winner Hardy

“My name is Michelle Tamika Hardy. I’m a resident of Oakland and work in Oakland. My daughter attends Westlake Middle School on Harrison. I had been approached by a faculty member at my daughter’s school to get my taxes done through VITA (EBALDC). I knew it was a great opportunity for us as well as other parents at the school. When I received the service of tax preparation, they also had other opportunities and incentives to save through my tax refund. I took each opportunity as a way of learning and incentivizing other opportunities in my life as well. I followed their instructor with the resources and planning in addition to utilizing other programs at the school (Eagle Village – SparkPoint University) which would help with improving my credit score and building my bank account to purchase a home. I am able to feel relief because I know the help will improve my life tremendously. I am very appreciative and thankful for everything and all of the help I received.”

– Michelle Hardy


SYR Winner Carney


“I like to save for my four AWESOME kids’ future!”

– Zachary Carney




SYR Winner Scimone



“These two little guys are our inspiration and reason for saving.”

– Nate Scimone





SYR Winners Mandagi



Winners Willey and Adele Mandagi had their taxes done at a local Indonesian church that hosts a VITA site every year as part of the CASH Coalition of Southeast New Hampshire –Rockingham Community Action VITA program.







SYR Winner Ortega


“I decided to save a portion of my tax refund because I’m trying to be more financially responsible about saving. I’m also saving for a big move!”

– Paola Ortega




“My name is Leon Battle and I chose to save this year at tax time. I have spent money every year to have my taxes completed. Two years ago, I left my job after accepting a job a non-profit agency. I was excited about empowering families in my community but I had to take a 17,000 dollar pay cut in the transition. Now as a social worker, I have been strapped for money quite often. Many times it seems like there are tons of services for the poor and limited services for those who are making ok money but are still struggling. The free tax program through FPP and United Way helped me get out of the paycheck to paycheck mode and now I have some extra money in my savings account. The free tax program actually provided me with the biggest return I have ever received. After putting money in my savings account and also paying off some debt, I have been able to donate some of that money to organizations that are helping the working poor in my community. It has felt good to have some financial freedom and the extra 100 dollars from the drawing is confirmation that God rewards a diligent steward and a cheerful giver. This program is truly making a difference in so many people’s lives!”

– Leon Battle

SYR Winner Munoz



Here SaveYourRefund winner Mariana Munoz is congratulated by Sylvia, an intake specialist at Ariva, Inc., the VITA site where her taxes were prepared. Ms. Munoz saved by having her taxes prepared for free, saved a portion of her refund and won $100!





SYR WInner Flores “I first heard of UpValley Family Centers when I was a junior at St. Helena High School.   I had just moved to the United States the year before. I was born here but lived in Mexico since I was little. I was looking for volunteer hours so my teen mentoring Coordinator encouraged me to help at the a community event known as “Dia de los Muertos”. Then I learned about the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the Family Center, and received training to be a VITA volunteer.  I was pretty scared at first — I didn’t want to mess up!  I had never volunteered before these experiences. Over time, I felt more comfortable filling out the forms. I discovered I really liked helping people. After that I told my mom she should get her taxes done at the Family Center. She did, and found it was a very nice place where people know what they are doing. This year, my mom and I both came and did our taxes again. What I really love is that the Family Center is here to help people. Then those people who get help come back and help others. It’s a really nice cycle. This year I received a refund and saved part of it. My focus now is on saving money for school. It was a great surprise to receive the news about winning the raffle and getting $100 more that I will add to my savings for University.”

– Alani Flores

SYR Winner Luckey




Winner Benzell Luckey is saving money for his children’s college education. He says his tax site, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, makes it exciting and easy to save money.






SYR Winner BrownKaleena Brown, Prepare + Prosper (MN):

“When you had the kind of year that I did, your tax return is a lifesaver,” Kaleena says.

About a year ago, Kaleena lost her job due to a lack of funding. Desperately needing work, she accepted a position with an airline as a ramp agent. But with this new job came a large pay cut.

Kaleena had to make sacrifices in order to make ends meet. With her salary at her new position, she could no longer afford auto insurance. Kaleena uses her car to travel to and from work because the bus system does not run during her unpredictable, evening hours. She also uses the car to drive her son to family member’s houses before her shifts because daycare is too expensive.

This year, after having her taxes prepared at Prepare + Prosper (P+P) in St. Paul and receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit, Kaleena was able to repurchase her auto insurance.

She even had enough of her tax refund leftover to pay off a majority of her credit card debt, as well as some of her student loans. She credits P+P with helping her understand her student loan debt: “Financial services was able to pull my credit report and pinpoint where all of my student loans were.” With her new understanding, Kaleena can now put some of her worries aside and work towards saving for a more reliable car and imagining a better future for her and her son.

Kaleena also appreciates that P+P encouraged her to save a portion of her tax refund this year in order to plan for new endeavors. After having her taxes prepared, she split her refund by putting a portion in savings and a portion in her checking account. This decision paid off — Kaleena won $100 in a national Save Your Refund contest. She plans to use this money to splurge on her son because they had such a difficult year.

This big win for Kaleena is one of the many reasons that she keeps coming back to P+P after over five years: “The staff is always awesome. Even though the tax preparation is free, they give us a really good service. Last year, I didn’t make enough money to get that much back with my tax refund. My tax preparer was able to advise me about that. I feel like I got better service than if I had gone to [a private preparer].”

Kaleena has achieved so much with her tax refund this year, and she hopes to achieve even more in the future. She plans to go back to school in September for psychology and social work. A more reliable car will be integral to her success because she will have to balance commuting to work, attending classes, and caring for her son.

SYR Winner Austin Phillip Austin, Prepare + Prosper (MN):

After having his taxes prepared at Prepare + Prosper (P+P) in St. Paul, Philip decided to split his tax refund by putting some in savings and some in a checking account because he wanted to practice good savings habits. He comments, “In the next four years, it would be good to save up a comfortable amount of money so that I can support myself.” Philip’s decision paid off —  he was entered into the national Save Your Refund contest and won $100!

As a graduate student in Chinese medicine, Philip is always trying to save money. He is proud that he has learned how to spend with self-restraint by not using his paychecks from his two jobs all at once. But Philip also worries about his money running out, especially because he currently has student loans. He comments, “I try not to get too burdened by it. But the debt is always hanging there.”

SYR Winner Rivas


“I am a hard working janitor in LAX and what motivates me to save is my daughter, Karen. She is a student in California State University Los Angeles studying to become a Nutritionist. I split part of my refund to purchase a United State Bond for Karen so that she has money saved for the future. This is the second year that I split my refund with Save Your Refund and it has made my savings for my daughter a lot easier.”

– Guadalupe Rivas





Fatima_Harris_SaveYourRefundFatima Harris, United Way of Northern New Jersey:

While working full time in customer service collections, Fatima made sure she earned any incentives her job offered. The extra money helped ease the financial strain of living paycheck to paycheck. When incentives varied in amounts or regularity, the single mom felt the impact.

“That’s where you would get into a situation where you wouldn’t be able to take care of things too well,” she recalled. “I’ve had to use credit cards to make up the difference.”

After having her taxes prepared by United Way of Northern New Jersey—which teams up with the IRS and community partners to provide free tax preparation from IRS-certified NORWESCAP RSVP volunteers—Fatima used her refund to pay off most of her credit card debt.

“I would not have otherwise been able to do that without the refund,” she said.

Like Fatima, nearly one-third of northern New Jersey households are walking a financial tightrope, unable to meet expenses, deal with unexpected hardships and save for the future. United Way calls these struggling families and individuals ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).

Through its free tax preparation program, United Way helps ALICE save the average $200 it would cost to pay a tax preparer—money that ALICE can use to pay a bill, cover a prescription or buy groceries. Clients also are encouraged to save some of their refund, which helps them prepare for the unexpected and plan for the future. This strategy resonated with Fatima.

“If I don’t put something aside for a rainy day, I’m not going to have too much if something happens later on. And things happen all the time,” she said.

The decision to save some of her refund resulted in Fatima winning $100 through the SaveYourRefund campaign.

Fatima continues to struggle—she was downsized and has utilized local food pantries—but with less debt to worry about, she’s firmly focused on the future. Currently a full-time student pursuing an associate’s degree thanks to a state program, Fatima is looking forward to a career in web design. “I wanted to choose something that would allow me to be a little more creative and be myself.”