United Way of Central Florida

Polk Family Wins Big by Saving Part of Their Tax Refund



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United Way and Florida Prosperity Partnership Leads Family to Win $25,000 by Saving 

Increasing Family Financial Stability


Polk County –  A chance encounter with a community tax volunteer, first led a struggling family to United Way partner, Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP). FPP’s Debbie Prescott reached out to help the family, called on several resources available in the community and provided the money coaching that would encourage Mary and Willis to take some good advice. Taking that advice would change their luck and ultimately put them on the road to greater family financial stability in the future.

The Bunch family received United Way funded free tax preparation and were encouraged to enter the nationwide contest provided by SAVEYourRefund.com. Participants were required to split their refund into a checking and a savings account and write a brief statement of what they would do with the $25,000 prize made possible by the Met Life Foundation and JP Morgan Chase.

There was only one national prize awarded –however, life-changing financial literacy and money coaching are provided throughout the year across the community through the United Way Financial Stability Partnership. The initiative aims to increase family financial stability by encouraging families to build emergency savings and United Way’s lead partner for the initiative is Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP) Polk.

United Way currently funds financial services provided at 11 sites across the community. Financial services include helping families maximize their tax refunds and learn more about how to create savings in order to manage a financial crisis, a car repair, or reach goals for higher education and home ownership. 

Willis and Mary received this coaching from Debbie Prescott, Director of FPP who says, “with the leadership of United Way and our partnership, we’ve helped so many families improve financial stability and we’re especially excited for the Bunch family—they’ve worked hard to get on track to afford an apartment and create an emergency savings.”


The Bunch family, like many others, were one emergency away from the slippery slope into poverty. In October, Willis Bunch unexpectedly lost his job and Mary’s part-time income was not enough to sustain them—and with not enough to pay their bills the family of 7 soon lost everything. They were evicted from their apartment, had no car, and were homeless. Willis anxiously looked for work, but all of his experience is in lawn care and October was the beginning of the slow season. Mary landed full-time employment at McDonalds and a paycheck that was just enough to get off the streets into a motel room. But, paying for the motel was expensive and there was just barely enough to feed their family to survive. The situation was dire. Willis and Mary determined to keep their family of 7 together, lived discreetly at the motel, barely surviving for 9 months.

Earlier this week, the Bunch family was announced the winner of the national Save Your Refund $25,000 giveaway for saving a part of their refund. This savings led to their win and fueled their financial stability.

Due to the generosity of several local community organizations, Willis and Mary will now be able to save more of their $25,000 prize, allowing Mary to realize her goal of finishing nursing school.  

Key partnerships involved in helping the Bunch’s create a better future were Lakeland Business Leaders, Peace River, Neighbors to Families, Tri-County Human Services, Fuel Church Lakeland, Talbot House, Hearth, ElderPoint Ministries, Legoland, Family Fundamentals, FPP, United Way Income Steering Team and United Way Financial Stability Partnership.

Save Your Refund will present the $25,000 check at a press conference held Thursday, May 21, 9:00am at Family Fundamentals, 1021 Lakeland Hills Blvd, Lakeland, FL 33805. 

The results of United Way Financial Stability work across 11 sites:  299 families received free tax preparation, 99 of those families opened savings accounts for a total saved of $173,308 this year. That’s a 33% savings rate toward improved family financial stability.  A 23% savings rate increase over last year. 

For more information or to get involved in our income work, call Scott Lonsberry, Income Stability & Community Projects Manager, United Way of Central Florida at 863.648.1500 ext241 or to connect with services available contact FPP at 863.648.1500 ext 281. 


About United Way of Central Florida

A philanthropy leader locally and regionally, United Way of Central Florida understands local needs and drives sustainable change to build better lives and stronger communities.  We focus in the areas of education, income and health because these are the building blocks for a good quality of life.  We bring people and organizations together from all across the community –people with the passion and expertise to get things done.  United Way leads and works collectively on measurable and sustainable solutions that strengthen the community and the workforce.


About the United Way Financial Stability Partnership

The United Way of Central Florida Financial Stability Partnership addresses obstacles that prevent hard working families from getting ahead financially; and as they gain financial stability, helps them plan for and accomplish their long-term financial goals. Our lead partner in this work is Florida Prosperity Partnership Polk.





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