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UA initiative helps tornado victim

Jessica Ruffin

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Birmingham resident Myra Jackson recently won $10,000 from the SaveNow WinLater initiative put on by the University of Alabama Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility.


Jackson, whose home was destroyed by the tornadoes on April 27, became eligible to win the prize money because she invested part of her 2010 income tax refund into federal savings bonds for her child. According to an article in the Birmingham News, Jackson was surprised with the news at Hygia Health Services, where she works.

“We lost everything,” Jackson told the Birmingham News. “This is an answer to a prayer. I am so shocked.”

Heather G. Christenson, who serves as the center’s research project coordinator, spoke about the program on behalf of Stephen Black, the director of CESR and the president and founder of Impact Alabama.

“Anyone statewide can participate in the program,” Christenson said.  “For every $50 families invest in a federal savings bond, they earn a chance to win the grand prize, as well as smaller monthly prizes during the tax season.”

Christenson went on to say that Black created the SaveNow WinLater initiative in January 2011. The idea behind it is to create an incentive for families to save more money by allowing them to participate in a grand prize contest. Especially during this time of economic crisis, Christenson said, it is very important for families to recognize the importance of saving.

“The vast majority of low-income families live paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings to shield against unforeseen emergencies or plan for future needs,” Christenson said. “Savings play a critical role in insulating people from financial shocks.”

Christenson also said families with lower incomes can participate in a different initiative, SaveFirst, which operates with SaveNow WinLater.

“Families making less than $50,000 a year with one or more children in the home or less than $20,000 annually without children are eligible to participate in the free tax preparation initiative [SaveFirst] the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility operates in collaboration with Impact Alabama,” Christenson said.

Because of the initiatives put on by CESR, Christenson said that Alabama students were able to make a big difference in the lives of many.

“In the 2011 tax preparation season, UA students assisted in the preparation of more than 3,000 returns – helping families claim more than $6 million in refunds and save nearly $850,000 in commercial preparation fees.”

CESR also hopes to get more students involved in its activities by offering a variety of courses at the university. According to the center’s website, these courses range from filmmaking classes to service-learning initiatives.

In looking to the future of the program, Christenson and the rest of the center are hoping for improvements in the manner in which families handle their finances.

“We hope SaveNow WinLater will continue to encourage Alabama families to save,” Christenson said. “During the SaveNow WinLater’s inaugural year, 552 Alabama families purchased 1,030 savings bonds and invested $51,500 through the program.

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UA initiative helps tornado victim