This spring was CeCe Williams’ first time filing a tax return.
“OK, I can do this,” the independent young woman told herself, counting on the Internet to teach her what she needed to know. Her results, however, took her aback. Could she really owe several hundred dollars from her modest summer and part-time jobs?
“I thought, ‘That’s a lot. I’m pretty sure there’s no way I owe that much,’ ” said Williams, 20, a student at Chestnut Hill College.
About two weeks before the filing deadline, she got a hand from an unexpected source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Karabots Pediatric Care Center in West Philadelphia — where her mother brought her for health care when she was younger — was offering free tax-prep assistance. She decided to check it out.
Not only did she and her mother get their taxes done, gratis, the preparers were able to obtain Williams a refund that’s close to what she thought she had owed.
“I was happy,” Williams said.
The best doctors and nurses know that taking care of people when they’re sick is just part of ensuring the well-being of healthy children and thriving families. Enter CHOP Cares, a program that awards grants to hospital employees who come up with innovative approaches to fostering patient wellness in its many forms.
“It’s about caring about them as people,” said George Dalembert, one of the CHOP pediatricians who brought the free tax-prep service for patient families to the Karabots center.
When she was young, CHOP nurse Vi Nguyen longed to take dance classes. Now, through a CHOP Cares grant, she is helping youngsters get moving through Zumba classes and learning how to take better care of themselves through health-related story times at the South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center. CHOP is a center partner.
“I’m very grateful I was given the opportunity to create this dream of mine,” said Nguyen.
It’s one dream among many. Since the program’s inception, CHOP Cares has awarded 155 grants worth nearly $500,000 for staff-generated projects. Capped at $5,000 per grant in seed funding, the funding for CHOP Cares has been raised through the sale of CHOP specialty license plates, as well as hospital contributions and individual donations.
“CHOP employees want to improve the health of children in our community. That’s why we offer them a chance to compete for these grants — and [also] encourage ongoing volunteer efforts,” said Peter Grollman, the hospital’s senior vice president of external affairs.
Just last month, CHOP marked the fifth anniversary of CHOP Cares by announcing an even more ambitious funding effort to further support successful community programs started by staff members.
Called CHOP Cares Excel, it will award up to $35,000 “to past CHOP Cares grant recipients, whose projects have made a meaningful impact on the community, so they can grow them and service even more children," said hospital CEO and president Madeline Bell.
CHOP Cares grants address a wide variety of community needs. Among the success stories are the Healthy Weight Food Pharmacy, which provides nutritious food to families experiencing food insecurity, and the Keto Kitchen, where families learn how to prepare food for children who are on ketogenic diets to treat neurological conditions.
The grants also created the Health and Wellness Garden at the Karabots Center; a breast-feeding support program for mothers; and multiple mental-health and family-health efforts.
In 2015 and 2016, Linda Hawkins, codirector of CHOP’s Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic, secured funding for the creation of support and social groups for transgender children, teens, and their parents.
As the groups evolved, Hawkins saw a need for support to the children’s extended families, including grandparents. So two years ago, she secured a CHOP Cares grant to create a group that connects grandparents with religious leaders “to bring their faith and the love of their families together.”
So valued are the programs by participants, Hawkins said, “many family members are making donations to support" them.
And then there’s the Karabots center’s tax program. Created this year, it assisted about 180 families with their returns, resulting in an average refund of $2,000, and more than $340,000 overall.
In one case, said Dalembert, not only did a family get this year’s taxes done, but the preparer took a closer look at their last return (which they had paid a professional to file).
“We were able to make adjustments and get them some money back" on that prior return, Dalembert said.
CeCe Williams, meanwhile, has already received this year’s refund. She’s using it to help pay for school (where she’s trying to decide whether to major in political science or sports medicine) and transportation to and from her job as a receptionist at a tennis center.
Even a first-time tax filer like Williams can tell you that “found” money is good for everyone’s well-being.
“Any kind of financial literacy,” she said, “is very beneficial to the community.”