Can gorillas help fight poverty?
“And just when I think I’m gonna die--I start volunteering,” Kelly Batson says. She’s sitting in her office at United Way, taking 20 minutes away from her hectic day as Vice President of Program Operations to share the latest news on the United Way Bay Area program, Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS).
EKS provides free tax preparation to low- to moderate-income Bay Area households. Last year, more than 3,500 trained volunteers provided free tax preparation for more than 80,000 households, which brought roughly $83 million in refunds to our local economy and back into Bay Area taxpayer pockets.
After 10 years of the same massive workload leading EKS, Batson still finds the same fulfillment from the impact EKS volunteers have on more than 81,000 people’s lives. “It’s about connecting with people, and it’s about seeing the impact. What other volunteer opportunity do you spend an hour with another person in the community? Right?”
A few weeks earlier, Kelly stood at the front of a lecture hall at a volunteer training. “You really are the heart of this program, and we could not do the work that we do in the community without you,” she told the diverse group of local citizens volunteering their time. The only thing they had in common: “a love for helping people,” said one of the trainees.
Despite the grey walls, the grey furniture, and the grey weather outside, a San Franciscan would have been hard-pressed to find a warmer room on a rainy Saturday morning--or another universe in which 30 people would willingly get out of bed on said rainy Saturday morning, show up for training, AND still have generous, easy smiles on their faces.
Though to be fair, the smiles may have been due to the snack spread of fruit and chocolate laid out at the front of the hall.
“I liked that this was something where I could work with lots of different people and really invest the skills I already have--which are NOT tax filing! (laughter) You get to meet so many people that you wouldn’t meet in your day to day, and just learn about their lives, and help ‘em out.” -Rachel Cohen, second year volunteer
“It’s such a great group of volunteers and we’ve all really bonded. And so the fact that other people come back year after year? I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing people.” -Krista Menally, third year
“It’s giving back. It’s teaching. It’s making people financially empowered. I enjoy it.” -Shannon Wise, tenth year
You could be eligible for more than $5,000 when you claim both the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credit--even if you’re not required to file! Call 211 or visit earnitkeepitsaveit.org to find a location.
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