Grand Prize Winner of SaveYourRefund Presented with Check

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Mary Bunch, her kids and Doorway to Dreams (D2D) Fund were the toast of central Florida late last week, along with D2D’s generous national backers and powerful statewide partners.

More than 75 community leaders, well-wishers and friends gathered at the United Way-supported Family Fundamentals center in Lakeland on May 21 as D2D and its statewide partner Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP) presented Mary, her husband and their five kids with a check for $25,000 as the national grand prize winners in this year’s innovative SaveYourRefund tax-time savings incentive plan.

Mary is a Lakeland mother five who struggled with homelessness; her family hit hard times after her husband was laid off from work. With no savings, Mary gave up nursing school and took a job at McDonald’s. Her $7.93/hour job didn’t carry far; the family of seven lived in a single motel room for nine months.

Mary said at the award ceremony that she knew for years that she had to set aside some money for emergencies and at least start a nest egg for her and her kids’ futures.  She also said she didn’t know how to save, until Florida Prosperity Partnerships showed her the way and pointed her towards the Doorway to Dreams Fund’s innovative savings incentive program.

Mary entered the D2D contest by saving $300 of her refund, at the urging of FPP local representatives and tax assistants. Mary won even bigger – the $25,000 grand prize presented by Joanna Smith-Ramani, D2D’s senior innovation director, as well as an added reward: a minivan provided by a local ministry.

Extraordinarily, Mary gave some of the money she won back to the community that had helped her for so many years. She wanted them to use the money to help other families to climb out of homelessness and start saving.

State Senator Kelli Stargel and State Rep. Colleen Burton were among speakers at the event who praised not only Mary for her efforts but also FPP, D2D and its national funders for offering savings incentives to financially challenged Americans. Congressman Dennis Ross sent his congratulations; Ross was an APSA co-sponsor.

More than half of American lack any savings at all to help them cope with financial emergencies.  Indeed, without help from several Central Florida groups, Mary couldn’t have afforded even her family’s last few weeks in that single motel room.

With her contest winnings and the van, Mary can concentrate on returning to school to complete her registered nurse degree program and saving for a home for her family. On her kids’ modest wish list? College funds, giving to charity, more desserts – and, yes, a 300-room mansion!

Thursday’s audience also heard the heartwarming story of how Mary’s path to savings started, literally, over a cookie. Mary’s daughter Cheyenne had confided to a sixth-grade friend about how she often didn’t have enough to eat, and rarely had cookies or sweets. The friend mentioned the family’s plight to her mom, who happened to be an FPP volunteer.  Cheyenne and Katie were honored Thursday for their role in the family’s turnaround, too.

As Mary, Joanna and Debbie Prescott, executive director of FPP’s Polk County area office, noted on Thursday, not even the start of a savings account – much less the grand prize – would have been possible without the support of D2D funders including Intuit, JPMorgan Chase and MetLife Foundation.