When employment specialists Dani Manis and Elonaray “Jo” Perkins started volunteering at United Way for its free tax preparation clinics, they never expected it would turn into a unique experience for Project Connect. However, they immediately saw an opportunity for at least one participant – Vanessa Beish – whose dream job is working in an office.
Jo talked with Kasha Henning, United Way of Ross County’s Community Impact manager, to ask if they could bring in one or two Project Connect participants to help put together packets and answer the phone. Project Connect is a paid transitional work program which helps participants gain marketable skills like customer service, janitorial, and, in this case, filing and light office work.
Kasha was more than on board with Vanessa coming and volunteering.
“Vanessa was thrilled with this chance because she wants a job in the community where she is doing office tasks such as answering phones, filing, and possibly greeting clients,” Jo said.
Kasha loaned Vanessa her office to work and made it extra special by putting Vanessa’s name on the door.
“They gave me my own office and really made me feel welcomed,” Vanessa said. “The people at United Way were really sweet. If I could work there more often, I would.”
Every year, United Way operates a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinic to help ensure those with low and moderate income get all the tax breaks they qualify for such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. As of Feb. 25, United Way of Ross County had completed 596 tax returns. Before each one of those returns and the hundreds more they will complete, people needed to schedule an appointment and complete a packet. That’s where Vanessa has been a huge asset.
“People don’t see the small things like this five-paper packets as something that needs to be done before they can do anything. This has the intake survey, the consent form, and so much more,” Kasha said. “The impact of just doing these packets is outstanding, let alone all the positive feedback we received with her answering the phones, just how sweet, kind, and helpful she was, it made a big difference to people.”
Vanessa really put in the hard work during her first day at United Way completing over 60 packets, most of which were delivered and completed by the end of the day.
“Goodwill has always been a big help to me. I’ve learned how to clean, stock shelves, customer service, and work in an office setting,” Vanessa said. “They have given me opportunities and training that brings me one step closer to my goals and dreams.”