Volunteer Spotlight: Pancho Occiano

Pancho Occiano is a guy that would smile to you when you walk by him on the street. He is a UCSB graduate that hails from Harvey, Louisiana (in the New Orleans Metro) and his presence carries a mix of California cool and southern hospitality!

After finishing at UCSB Pancho found himself working with the County of Santa Barbara Auditor Controller’s office. While he was getting acclimated to being out of college and integrating into the community he heard about United Way through a presentation during the County of Santa Barbara’s Annual Charitable Giving Campaign, which made him consider how he might get involved.

“I had wanted to volunteer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program during 2013, but life and the CPA exam got in the way. After passing the CPA, I felt I should give back.” Pancho acted on his conviction by helping his colleague Betsy Bryne by assistance as a department Representative for the 2014 campaign. The more he got involved, the more committed Pancho became to the mission of United Way, “Knowing that the donations received would be going back to local entities and groups was a huge plus to me. I always felt that if I were to donate, I want to see the effects of the donation first hand. United Way's mission really resonated with me when I was able to look at their initiatives for students in the area as well as other individuals.”

As one of the 200+ 2015 VITA volunteers who went through Internal Revenue Service Training and were sent to tax preparation sites throughout Southern Santa Barbara County, Pancho was able to not only observe United Way, but become and integral part of our United For Financial Empowerment initiative.
“When I first started learning about taxes, the whole tax process was so daunting and scary with all of the IRS' rules, regulations, tax law changes, etc. [and I realized] It can be especially hard for individuals to process their taxes if they don't have the proper resources to understand them.”

I believe that “passing on the tax knowledge I gained during training to individuals was the most fulfilling. Knowledge is so valuable yet can be so easily overlooked. Helping to prepare client's taxes and guide them along the way was the cherry on top. “

Pancho’s work also led him to self-reflection on his own upbringing. “Sometimes I would encounter situations in which the client was struggling financially, which seemed to affect their overall health and well-being. Knowing that I was able to help in these instances really opened my eyes further to the concept of ‘it's not just my point of view, it's everyone else's.’” This was something his parents taught him when he was a child, but that became newly relevant during VITA.

Like several of our volunteers, Pancho began volunteering through Lunch Bunch at Fun in the Sun where “interacting with the children and seeing what interests them in life was a huge insight. Whenever I would talk to one of the children, they would be shy at first, but after a while they would open up and start asking questions. For me, knowing that these kids have an opportunity to play and learn at the same time is encouraging.”

For many of us there can be a mundanely routine aspect to life. Our consumer-driven, busy world rarely naturally provides opportunities to be citizens and community members. Countering this narrative is why Pancho values being involved. “To me, it also feels good to help out whether it's in VITA or Fun in the Sun. Sometimes, you can be surprised by the way you feel after giving back to the community. I feel a collective effort is always important when you're talking about impacting a community. You can have an individual affect a community, but only for so long.”

Although United Way has had great success in its programs and initiatives, in my honest opinion there is always more room to develop, adapt, grow. I hope that one day United Way's programs will continue their effects to a greater extent, but also keep in mind the room for improvement. Apart from that, I would love to see more sports programs with the youth, maybe built into the Fun in the Sun program. Sports are such a great learning tool, about life, teamwork, dedication, and the group instead of the individual.

One last thing Pancho enjoys about fun in the Sun, “some of the kids are really good soccer players too!”