Wilma Haymon

Public Health Department

When she was struggling to make ends meet, Wilma Haymon learned about free tax preparation programs that took the dread out of the annual tax season and helped provide a significant boost to her pocketbook as well. Years later, when she learned that her employer, Alameda County, offered such a program to low- and moderate-income residents in the area, she seized the opportunity to support the program as a volunteer.

“There was a time when I was in those people’s shoes – I was unemployed and didn’t have money to get my taxes done,” she says. “I found a free tax preparation service and it really helped me. So I know first-hand that this is a great way to give back and to support people in our community.”

Wilma is a longtime volunteer with the Alameda County Social Services Agency’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides no cost tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers every year.

She started a decade ago, learning the ropes as a tax preparer. She gradually worked her way up the ladder and now serves as a transmitter – the person who does the final review of VITA-prepared tax returns and transmits them to the State Franchise Tax Board and federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Wilma says the best part of volunteering with VITA is “when you see the light going off with the client, when they realize how much of a refund they’re getting and it’s not costing them anything.”

She strongly encourages other County employees to get involved by volunteering with VITA. Contact the program at vita.eitc@acgov.org

Meryl Klein

Administrative Analyst, County Administrator’s Office

Meryl Klein volunteers 3-4 hours each week at the Oakland Animal Services shelter, providing behavioral training to rescue animals in order to maximize their chances for adoption into safe, loving homes.

Meryl also fosters stray kittens and dogs at home, offering them a temporary home where they can recover from abandonment and other traumatic experiences and polish their social skills. These foster animals join what is already a pretty busy household, with two dogs and two cats that are permanent members of the family.

“They’re often extremely scared when I first meet them, hiding under chairs and refusing to be touched,” Meryl says. “To see them grow into being lovable, cuddly pets is the best feeling ever.”

Laurel Pendleton

Management Analyst, Social Services Agency

Several years ago Laurel Pendleton joined a group of friends who volunteered to teach Engilsh to refugees from around the world who were resettling in the Bay Area.

Then the group found another way to help, working in alliance with the Chipotle restaurant chain to develop a food-service training program that has become a direct pipeline to employment opportunities. Lately, Laurel has focused her volunteer efforts on being a mentor to local refugee families – helping them steer through American culture and to attend to basic needs such as setting up telephones, medical insurance and bank accounts. She also helps at a Berkeley café launched by some friends that trains refugees for jobs in the food service industry.

“I’ve made a lot of friends and helped people to become really valuable members of our community,” she said. “The refugees I have met just want what everybody else wants – a safe place to raise their families and an opportunity to contribute.”

Employees of the Information Technology Department

Employees of the Information Technology Department routinely get together during the lunch hour on Fridays to get some midday nourishment and engage in fun team activities. There is a rotating theme to these “Fun Fridays,” to build office camaraderie and to keep things interesting. Sometimes, the focus is on volunteerism and service. That’s when members of the ITD team roll up their sleeves and work together to leave a positive mark on the community.

“In just an hour’s time, a group of folks working together can really accomplish something significant to give back to the community,” said Michael Rock, web designer and social media strategist with ITD.

Recently a team of a dozen ITD employees spent the Friday lunch hour cleaning up trash along the shoreline of Lake Merritt. Equipped with rubber gloves, members of the ITD team fanned out across the south end of the lake and filled several bags with trash. This end of the lake has been the focus of many landscaping upgrades in recent years – and has become a great place for County employees in Oakland to take a brief walk or get some sun. By the time the ITD crew was finished, the grassy parks and walkways at the lake’s south end looked fantastic!

Pat Levy

Applications Engineer, Information Technology Department

Perhaps it’s because her father was an Air Force pilot and her son an Army soldier. Whatever the reason, Pat Levy has long felt a need to show her appreciation to members of the military for the sacrifices they make to protect our country.

That’s why she’s spent the past decade as a dedicated volunteer with the East Bay Chapter of Blue Star Moms, a national organization that brings mothers together to share their stories of pride, devotion and concern for sons and daughters serving in the military.

Pat is deeply involved in the chapter’s Care Package Committee, which sends send some 1,200 care packages each year to soldiers deployed overseas. She also participates in uplifting “Welcome Home” ceremonies for local soldiers returning home from military service. In addition, Pat is a regular volunteer at the East Bay Stand Down, a four-day event held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton each year where a wide array of support services are provided to local veterans who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.

“I feel it’s the least I can do for people willing to sacrifice so much for our country,” Pat says. “I also enjoy it. There’s a great feeling that comes when you realize how a little gesture of support can mean a great deal to a soldier.”

Social Services Agency’s Annual Purse Giveaway

“The Only Thing That Separates Us From The Animals Is Our Ability To Accessorize”

They may not be Gucci or Louis Vuitton, but you wouldn’t know that from the smiles that beam from the faces of the moms who receive new and gently used handbags each year in recognition of Alameda County Social Services Agency (ACCSSA) Annual Mother’s Day Purse Giveaway.

Every mom deserves a nice handbag on Mother’s Day, and that is just what they have received for two years now at three ACSSA locations: the Eden Area Multi-Service Center in Hayward, and the Eastmont and Enterprise offices in Oakland. Moms line the halls to get a chance to shop for the perfect handbag at the perfect price—Free. The benefactors of this Mother’s Day generosity are all recipients of public assistance. The handbags are distributed on a first-come first-served basis, and come stocked with toiletries such as lotion, deodorant, and other niceties. All donated by ACSSA staff.

“We wanted to do something special for the moms who give so much to everyone else,” Andrea Ford, Assistant Agency Director for ACSSA’s Workforce and Benefits Administration. “This event has been so well received for the last two years that we knew we needed to make it an annual event and broaden it to include community donations. All handbags are donated by staff, and what they don’t have in their closets they go out and purchase.”

Last year the SSA distributed approximately 350 handbags over three days. “This purse will go perfect with my new mother’s day outfit,” remarked R. Scott, one of the lucky moms who got to purse shop in the SSA boutique.

If you would like to join in on the fun and donate a new or gently used handbag, the ACSSA welcomes your participation. To learn more about how you can donate to the Annual Purse Giveaway contact Sylvia Soublet at (510) 271-9100 for more information.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (Social Services Agency)

Earn Income Tax Credit—VITA/EITC

The Alameda County Social Services Agency (SSA) is provides no cost IRS certified tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers every tax season from January to April.

Since 2002, SSA Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) preparers have helped taxpayers to receive larger tax refunds by claiming the credits they have earned. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is provided to working families and single or married individuals. Additionally, families and individuals may be eligible for other credits. Individuals whose household income is $54,000 or less and married couples with an annual income of $70,000 or less are eligible to have their taxes prepared at one of our free IRS certified tax preparation sites. You are invited to have your taxes prepared at no cost by our qualified IRS-certified preparers. You can have your tax refund as quickly as 7 to 10 days. Don’t Pay to get your return completed or pay interest on refund loans. Let us prepare your taxes at NO COST. We will make sure you get the tax credits you have earned and the full refund you deserve.

If you would like to become an IRS certified tax preparer volunteer we would gladly welcome you to our team. All tax preparation volunteers receive free IRS certified tax training. This is an excellent opportunity to expand your skills and assist low income families and individuals get the tax credits they deserve. For volunteer information contact Jacqueline Jacobs at (510) 271-9100.

For information on Free Tax Preparation Locations, click here.

Season of Sharing Program (Social Services Agency)

Providing A Helping Hand Through Life’s Transitions

The Alameda County Social Services Agency administers the Season of Sharing (SOS) year round housing and critical family needs program. SOS is a private fund providing one-time crisis-based assistance for housing and critical family needs to Alameda County residents. The program aims to help eligible households regain stability after experiencing an unforeseen emergency situation beyond the control. Each year the San Francisco Chronicle campaigns through their readerships and private funders to raise money and help households who are in need of emergency assistance and residing in one of 9 Bay Area counties. SSA oversees the administration of the SOS program within Alameda County.

Program parameters and eligibility criteria

To be considered for SOS assistance applicants must be current Alameda County residents for at least 6 continuous months or longer and meet one of the following criteria:

  • Families with children under age 18 residing in the home;
  • Permanently disabled individuals (age 18 & older and receiving SSDI/SSI or medically verified);
  • Elderly individuals, 55 years or older;
  • Emancipated/former foster youth, ages 18-24 (verification of status from Dept. of Children & Family Services or other authorized agency required);
  • Veterans (with verification of veteran status from authorized agency);
  • Victims of domestic violence or violence crimes (incident within the past 6 months); OR
  • Pregnant women in/after their 2nd trimester (physician verification required).

For more information on the program, click here.

Linda Moore

General Services Agency, Office of Acquisition Policy

Linda currently volunteers as a commissioner on the Community Services Commission in her hometown of Hayward. The work involves developing strategies to direct State and federal funds in ways to maximize their benefits to low-income residents. The work is the latest example of volunteerism that has characterized much of Linda’s life. “I grew up in East Oakland and one of the things my parents handed down early on was that you have to do something for somebody else. When you went to the store for (an elderly neighbor) you couldn’t accept the nickel she offered you, because you were brought up to believe that we’re stronger and better as a community when we help each other.”

Lauren Baranco

Social Services Agency

Lauren grew up doing volunteer work with her family, mostly giving her time to church-organized efforts through their nonprofit wing, to help the under-resourced.  Mostly, the work has involved serving meals to the hungry – an activity she still does each year during the holidays.  “This has been a part of my life for 20-plus years and it’s irreplaceable.   Too many people segregate themselves from diverse spaces and it is critical to participate in opportunities to connect with people who live within environments and with experiences outside of our individual scope.  It’s also a valuable time to spend with family, working together to share with others.”

Thelma Starr

Eligibility Service Technician III, Social Services Agency

Thelma serves as the volunteer Family Resource Coordinator for her church, which means she organizes a monthly food giveaway for residents in need in Oakland.
“We help a couple of hundred people each time – seniors and just anybody who comes. I’m a Christian, and volunteering is something I’ve always done through church. You always give back. That’s how you receive your blessings.”
She adds: “The best part is when you see the smiles on their faces, when you cheer someone up. I want positive so I give out positive.”