Michael Thio (middle), the international president general of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, chats with Steve Zabilski (right), executive director, speak with an employee May 11 at the downtown location. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN).

Charitable, education tax credits due Dec. 31

As the holiday shopping season draws to a close, shoppers might want to keep a couple more things in mind. Don’t worry; they won’t cost a thing.

The Charitable Tax Credit and Private Education Tax Credit give state taxpayers a chance to direct monies directly to local charitable organizations and local Catholic education.

Donors who itemize their deductions and send money directly to a charitable agency — like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Foundation for Senior Living or Catholic Charities Community Services — will get that same amount back on their tax return. There’s a maximum of $400 for married couples and $200 for single filers.

Taxpayers can also get back as much as $500 for single or $1,000 for married couples if they direct their money to Catholic Education Arizona.

The deadline is Dec. 31.

Catholic Charities

“We help vulnerable individuals and families access resources that many of us take for granted,” said Laura Toussaint-Newkirk of Catholic Charities Community Services.

The agency touched the lives of more than 94,000 people throughout central and northern Arizona last year. Its array of programs help clients who are living in or vulnerable to poverty access housing, education, livable wages, health benefits and positive role models.

That includes a small business owner in Cottonwood who took a finance and development class through Catholic Charities. She was able to work with the utility company to catch up on bills, repair her credit and plan for the future.

“She needed tools to cope with her financial struggles, many of which were new to her since the economy turned sour,” Toussaint-Newkirk said.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul

The charitable tax credit helps St. Vincent de Paul’s array of clients — whether it’s through the medical or dental clinic, dining rooms or thrift stores.

Cindy Sanchez is in the jobs program. Mock interviews and computer access helped her secure a caregiver position and Sanchez hopes to start nursing classes to better support her two children and niece. The program also helped her secure work attire and gas cards while staff members tend to her morale.

“They were always encouraging, like my cheerleaders every time I’m down,” Sanchez said. It was a message of “God has a vision for everyone. When the time is right, it will happen.”

She doesn’t overlook other goodwill gestures either, noting laundry detergent she receives from St. Vincent de Paul. She also touted the ministry to the homeless. They can take showers, get clothes and meals — 1.2 million were served throughout the Valley last year — all without judgment, she said.

Michael, a former St. Vincent de Paul client, couldn’t agree more. He said staff and volunteers treated him like a human being and knew him by name. A staff member, after nearly a year, asked when he would stop living under a bridge and quit drugs.

With that simple motivation and a network of resources, Michael is now employed full-time, reconciled with his mother after 25 years and in school to become a science teacher.

Carmen Grado Hernandez is also well on her way to success. St. Vincent de Paul’s conferences of charity at the parish level gave some $9.5 million in direct financial aid for rent, utilities, medical care and other necessities this year. For once, her family was not on that list.

“You’re so glad when you can do it on your own,” Hernandez said. She didn’t need one of the 370,000 food boxes that volunteer Vincentians delivered either.

“I think I’d be in a world of hurt if they hadn’t stepped in,” she said.

The volunteer-based agency couldn’t step in for everyone though. Steve Zabilski, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, said while virtually all of its ministries have seen increased demand, the local conferences felt it the most.

“Some are so overwhelmed with the numbers of individuals and families who are seeking assistance, that it is simply impossible for our volunteer Vincentians to respond to all the requests they receive,” Zabilski said. “We do our very best, but the need has never been greater than it is right now.”

Foundation for Senior Living

Guy Mikkelsen, executive director of the Foundation for Senior Living, agreed. This marks his 44th year in social work and, by far, the toughest.

It’s the perfect storm of factors, including social trends, budget reductions at the state level and impasses at the federal level. The Foundation for Senior Living eliminated 15 positions last year and continued a salary freeze to help make ends meet.

The foundation’s work in real estate development and other diverse revenue sources sustained the organization, which builds affordable senior housing and is heavily involved in home weatherization.

It also renovates multi-family apartment facilities, including one in Prescott that serves families at or below 50 percent of local income. Seniors remain the agency’s focus though.

Roughly half of seniors need help with daily activities, like eating dressing or bathing. The foundation served 29,000 people last year, a population slightly smaller than the town of Queen Creek.

Its services span much of the state, whether it’s home health care, affordable housing, adult day heath services — including a new program in Scottsdale — home improvement or caregiver training.

Catholic Education Arizona

Thanks to the 13,000 individual donors and 32 corporations who took advantage of the private education tax credit last year, 5,000 students across the diocese received a total of $12.5 million in tuition assistance from Catholic Education Arizona.

That included Carmen Grado Hernandez’s children, who transferred to the Catholic school system because they tested above grade average and needed a greater academic challenge. Her son graduated from St. Matthew last year and her daughter, with some scholarship help from Catholic Education Arizona, is in the sixth grade.

Hernandez clearly sees a difference in their education and demeanor. She doesn’t have to push them to do homework like she did with her older children. They’re self-motivated, more respectful and have developed their morals.

“They’re the ones that teach me to understand the Bible,” Hernandez said.

Catholic school graduates are more likely to carry on the faith in their families and in local ministries, according to Paul Mulligan, executive director of Catholic Education Arizona.

“By redirecting tax dollars to help students attend our Catholic schools, donors are paving the way for a child to not just thrive academically, or develop athletically, but to grow spiritually — ultimately, to serve society and transform culture,” Mulligan said. “Catholic schools are uniquely able to develop the whole person.”

They also save the state up to $50 million in public education costs.

The private education tax credit is capped at $1,000 for married couples and $500 for single filers. When combined with the charitable tax credit, that’s a possible total gift — which comes back in full to the donor — of $700 for single filers and $1,400 for married couples.

The agencies cherish smaller amounts just the same. Like what Sanchez said when she got laundry detergent from St. Vincent de Paul, “that little bit helps a lot.”