Commonwealth and America Saves are thrilled to announce Ivonne Sonato-Vega of Santa Rosa, Calif. as the 2017 winner of SaveYourRefund’s $25,000 Grand Prize Photo Contest.

The SaveYourRefund campaign encourages savings at tax time by offering chances at cash prizes for filers who save at least $50 of their tax refund in a qualified savings product, such as a savings account or savings bond, using IRS Form 8888. This year, about 2,800 tax filers entered SaveYourRefund and saved nearly $2.5 million.

Ms. Sonato-Vega was selected among 350 people who contributed submissions to the $25,000 Grand Prize Contest, which asked them to share their motivation for saving through a captioned photograph.

Ms. Sonato-Vega filed her taxes at the United Way of the Wine Country in Santa Rosa, California, through its free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (or VITA) program. She credits the United Way staff with helping to make the tax filing process fun, and for encouraging her to take a chance and enter SaveYourRefund. She makes sure to set aside some of her tax refund every year to help manage life’s unexpected emergencies. She is also saving to buy a home for her family. “My parents always taught us that you should spend on what you need and not what you want,” she says. “I’ve done the same with my kids.”

SaveYourRefund provides motivation for tax filers to save some of their tax refund and start a savings habit,” said Allie Vered, director of America Saves. “Saving isn’t an amount, it’s an activity. Tax-time refunds are the perfect opportunity for thousands of filers like Ivonne to jumpstart their savings.”

Ms. Sonato-Vega is the daughter of immigrants and a mother of three, and her motivations for saving are deeply personal. Two of her three children were born prematurely and their lives were saved by the efforts of the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) in her local hospital. Her experience there inspired her to want to help children and families who faced similar challenges, and she became the first person in her family to go to college. Currently a medical assistant, Ms. Sonata-Vega’s goal is to return to school to become a NICU nurse herself and work in the same hospital alongside the people who saved the lives of her own children.

“We are thrilled to award the grand prize to someone as motivated as Ivonne. Her inspiring story reflects how saving even a small amount of money can make a decisive difference,” said Timothy Flacke, Executive Director of Commonwealth.

Over the past five years, SaveYourRefund has encouraged nearly 12,000 Americans to save $10 million of their tax refunds using Form 8888. Additionally, SaveYourRefund participants have used Form 8888 to save over $650,000 through the purchase of U.S. Savings Bonds.