Volunteer Profile: Vanessa Mullally

Vanessa has been a stellar volunteer with us for over two years. Some of her accomplishments include becoming certified as an intermediate Volunteer Income Tax Preparer and piloting a project to build our capacity to help clients connect with local social services. We are truly thankful for all the work Vanessa has done for families in Napa County. She is a fantastic advocate and community builder.

How long have you been a volunteer, and why did you initially choose to volunteer with Cope Family Center?
This is my second year of volunteering. I responded to an advertisement to assist with tax preparation because I like to help people and work with finances.

What keeps you coming back?
I get satisfaction from the work and feel appreciated by staff and clients. I may not be earning a paycheck but I am helping put thousands of dollars in people’s ‘pockets’ that need it and that is tremendously rewarding. Money received by families through Cope’s volunteer tax program helps reduce stress by providing for necessities and also boosts our local economy.

How have you seen your volunteer role evolve during your time here?
This year I achieved intermediate level tax certification so I can prepare more complex returns and provide necessary review of returns our clinic prepares. I’m also helping with a pilot program spear-headed by Michelle Laymon of Cope: I assist clients completing applications for services and programs. Our goal is to free up home visitors to focus on bigger picture goals and activities while volunteers help clients navigate systems, processes, and workflows which are not always easily understood, especially when used once or infrequently – we can help with the learning curve.

Do you have one story you can tell us when you felt you were truly making a difference?
I recently assisted a family with four small children obtain needed funds to move into a safer home. I got goose bumps when I heard the funding was approved and the client teared up. She was worried that her kids would be homeless and was grateful for Cope Family Center’s assistance.

What is one challenge you’ve experienced as a volunteer?
It can be a challenge to stay sharp with tax rules and regulations when you don’t use the information regularly – for example we are preparing back tax returns on an as needed basis currently. However the IRS provides excellent training and materials and we can review charts and flow charts as needed. We discuss more complex scenarios with fellow volunteers, Michelle Laymon, and IRS personnel if needed until there is consensus regarding the correct application of tax law.

What do you enjoy about working with fellow Cope Family Center staff and volunteers?
There is a sense of camaraderie due to common goals. People are caring, intelligent, and possess a sense of humor.

What other work do you do in the community?
I’ve been a crime analyst at Napa Police Department and a computer applications developer and information technology director at Napa Valley College. I am semi-retired now and enjoy technical consulting and providing customer service at Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley in Napa, American Canyon, St. Helena, and Sonoma while regular staff take vacation.

What would you say to recommend Cope to friends and family who may want to volunteer?
Cope is a great place to volunteer. Your skills will be matched to needs and you and your efforts will be appreciated. You can choose how much time and energy you feel comfortable donating. Contact Aimee Inglis today!

40th Anniversary Retrospective: Terrie Truchard Lilley

Today, we feature Terrie Truchard Lilley, former home visitation program manager.

1. How did you initially become involved with Cope Family Center?

I began working with Cope Family Center in November 1997.  I had completed graduate school in Houston and wanted to move to Napa to be near family. A family friend (Kristi Brandt from Napa Co. H&HS) recommended that I send a resume to Cope as my area of study and interest was Maternal and Child Health. Luckily for me, they actually had a position open for a Program Manager. I started in November of 1997 and worked to help start the Kids’ Turn program as well as coordinate the volunteer training and Child Abuse Prevention Program. I left Cope for a brief spell (2000-2001) but really missed working there and returned as a Program Manager, first as the Education Program Manager and then as Home Visitation Program Manager. I continued working for Cope until 2004 when my daughter was born.

2. What gave you the greatest satisfaction when you were affiliated with Cope?

When I was with Cope, I derived a great sense of satisfaction from working directly with the families and from the sense of community within the organization. It was very fulfilling to work with parents during their time of crisis and give them resources and hope. You become very involved with the families and feel like you have a stake in their success. I also really enjoyed the feeling of family within the Cope staff and I truly miss them to this day. If I did not live so far away, I have no doubt that I would still be involved with Cope in one way or another.

3. How have you seen Cope change over the last 40 years?

When I started at Cope, it was still known as C.O.P.E. (Child or Parent Emergency) and we occupied only the downstairs of the current office. Everyone on the staff wore many different hats during my first years there.  Though Cope was doing much of the same type of work all along, it was when we got the ABC grant in the ’98 or ’99 that things really seemed to change. Along with the physical remodel of the building, there was an expansion of the Home Visitation Program and we were able to reach a much wider audience.

4. Do you have any recommendations on other people we should speak with about Cope’s 40th anniversary?

I’m sure you have already contacted her, but Judi Hernandez would be a wonderful resource about Cope “back in the day.”

5. Where do you see Cope Family Center going in the next 40 years?

I have no doubt that Cope Family Center will soar over the next 40 years. I’m sure it will continue to strengthen relationships with it’s community partners and become even more ingrained in the fabric of Napa. As new needs arise, Cope will create programs and systems to address these issues as they have for the past 40 years.

Wrapping Up Tax Clinic

This year over 20 volunteers were trained on basic tax prep to help Cope Family Center clients complete their tax return for free. The season kicked off on January 28th, National Earned Income Credit (EITC) Day. Both the Napa Board of Supervisors and the City Council recognized EITC Day. Since then volunteers have already completed over 300 returns, which has generated about $500,000 in refunds. That’s money pumped right back into our economy or to help build assets to stabilize families. Michelle Laymon, Family Economic Success Program Manager, says, “I’m so happy to see volunteers making great connections with clients and each other and having such a good time putting their new skills to work!”

Cope Family Center’s mission is to prevent child abuse, so why do we think it’s important to run a program that helps families file their taxes for free and be sure to claim the EITC if they’re qualified? Poverty level is closely associated with the rate of child abuse, and we think it’s important to do whatever we can to help families build assets and become financially stable. There are a few components to our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that help us further this goal:

1) By getting their taxes done free, low income families don’t waste any of their hard-earned money and can save it or use it to help make ends meet.

2) Many families aren’t aware they can claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, especially if they don’t make enough money for them to be required to file taxes. With the EITC, some families get an infusion of $1000+ at end of tax season.

3) Instead of just spending that $1000+ right away, through consultations and financial management workshops, families are encouraged to save their money and help them build assets. Eligible families can also participate in our Individual Development Account (IDA) program, a 2:1 matched savings program to save for buying a home, starting a business, or pursuing higher education.

4) Many of the families we work with first came to us through the VITA program. After getting their taxes done free, families often take the opportunity to learn about other services we provide!

Check out the video we recently made about our 2012 VITA Tax Clinic.

We Appreciate Our Volunteers: Linda Thomas Scott

From April 15 through April 21, 2012, organizations will honor the hard work and dedication of volunteers. Volunteers are the foundation and back bone of any organization. We decided to honor just a few of our own special volunteers with their own words.

We kick off the week with Linda Thomas Scott, founding executive director of Cope Family Center.

1. How did you initially become involved with Cope Family Center?

I read an article in the local paper about a 2-year-old baby girl that was murdered in Napa on Easter. I just got to thinking about that situation and thinking that there didn’t seem to be any resources at that time for parents who needed help or needed respite or needed  someone  to talk to or to hand their child off to for a while. There were no resources except law enforcement and you don’t call the police when you feel like you’re going to hurt your child. There weren’t any resources that parents would use. There was CPS (child protective services), but that was an agency and many times, parents are afraid of what will happen if they contact an agency. I saw the gap there and felt it needed to be filled with a volunteer agency that could move quickly. That wasn’t bogged down in red tape, which could fulfill basic needs on a 24-hour basis to help deescalate the situation immediately, without terribly dire consequence to parents, and move quickly to help parents. Had there been some resources out there, would that 2-year old child have died?

2. What gave you the greatest satisfaction when you were affiliated with Cope?

It was the day-to-day work of just knowing that we made a tremendous amount of difference in people’s lives. We were able to respond effectively, prevent child abuse and help keep families together.

3. How have you seen Cope change over the last 40 years?

They’ve expanded programs and their outreach, which is pretty phenomenal. The organization is such an integral part of the community. It makes me proud to have a part of it. They’ve done and amazing job. They’ve widened the scope, but the core goal is still to prevent child abuse through providing families with support services.

4. Do you have any recommendations on other people we should speak with about Cope’s 40th anniversary?

Susie Pollock was one of our first volunteers. She was a teacher at the pregnant moms program at Napa High School. She may be in the phone book; I haven’t spoken with her since the last Cope party.

I was really young and no one told me that this (starting an organization) was a hard thing to do. The person that really was my mentor was Dan Corsello (Director of Human Services/CPS). The agency (human services) felt threatened by the unskilled volunteers working in the community. Dan was the Head of CPS; he was really smart because what he did was he sort of co-opted our effort and brought us in with the thought that “let’s work together, coordinate training and work very closely together”. We were a great team and offered a resource to the community that at that time, other communities did not have. We were in national press. Japan contacted me and requested information on how to form such an organization. All over the United States, people were calling asking how to start an organization and asking us to join a partnership.

Back in the day, families had more resources. The Grandma or an aunt could take the child for a couple of hours and help out the parents. More and more ,we were seeing families who were isolated and had no resources. We would take a child for a day and care for the child for the day to relieve some stress. I would ask the mom if they were able to relax and get some things done. Moms would call and thank me for being able just to take a bath…a bath. Those little things. Caretakers with no resources often times have a lot of other stresses happening in the family. Dan (Corsello) would call and say “We can’t get a kid back in to school. The family has a lot of financial issues and can’t afford a pair of shoes. Linda, can you take her and get her a pair of shoes? Can Cope help?” and of course, I would say “Yes, we can help.” And, the next day, the child was back in school.

Dr. Judith David did the training for the volunteers and quite comprehensive training. It was really interesting too, because all of these folks (volunteers) that came out of the training remarked how the crisis training helped them in their own lives.

5. Where do you see Cope Family Center going in the next 40 years?

My best wish for Cope is that it continues to offer the services that it offers now. I anticipate that Cope will need more community support as time goes on. Times are tough, more people need help; Cope will need more financial assistance and volunteers. They’ve done such a good job. Many of us have the opportunity to call people to help us through a crisis. And, often times, folks who injure or abuse their children don’t have the resources or the education (parent training classes), that’s a very important piece, the education. There’s no imprinting from their own parents; they’re abused children who continue the cycle with their own children. Cope breaks that cycle through the parent training classes. If you have no other tools in your toolbox, you use what you know. Cope gives parents new tools, kinder tools, effective tools.

Leave Linda a comment below to show YOUR appreciation for her years of giving.