EKS Volunteers Give Back In A Meaningful Way

By: Kevin Slattery

For the 16th year, low- to moderate-income residents of the Bay Area are afforded the opportunity to have their taxes prepared for free through the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS) program. United Way is proud to lead the EKS coalition and support the work of more than 3,000 volunteers changing lives one tax return at a time.

What is the EKS program?

  • EKS is a coalition of organizations that provide free tax preparation to households earning less than $54,000 a year.
  • United Way Bay Area partners with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), churches, nonprofits, AARP, and other organizations to scale free tax preparation.
  • This massive effort happens in more than 200 locations throughout eight Bay Area counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano.

The tax preparation process is fairly painless, said Megan McDonald, volunteer Site Coordinator at San Jose College.

“If you meet the income requirements, gather your [tax] documents, stop by one of our sites, and fill out a form — you can get your taxes done for free. It’s really that simple,” said McDonald.

Why do more than 3,000 Bay Area residents annually volunteer to help prepare tax returns?

“Helping community members, saving them money, and making them aware of our free services is very rewarding work for our volunteers,” said Teresa Thompson, EKS Site Coordinator for the past 6 years at Mission College.  

Peter Shyvers, a long time EKS tax preparation volunteer, said some of the rewarding aspects of volunteering for the program is working with UWBA staff, fellow volunteers, sponsoring organization staff — but the most rewarding part is problem-solving with the clients.

EKS centers also help families access the California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children, which leverages the federal EITC in the communities that need it the most.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is the most effective anti-poverty tool in America,” said Kelly Batson, United Way Bay Area SVP of Community Investment.

Noah Metz, a Tax Associate with Paul Hastings LLC and an EKS volunteer Site Coordinator, agrees with Batson and said the EITC is the single biggest form of government aid to low-income families in the U.S.

“I see firsthand the difference that the EITC can make to families,” said Metz. “In many cases, a multi-thousand dollar tax refund from the EITC is among the biggest single infusions of cash that a lower-income family sees in a given year — it can provide a crucial lifeline to help families stay afloat.”

Metz also said volunteering with EKS is a great way to give back to the community in a concrete way.

“Being a volunteer allows me to refine my knowledge of the tax code as it relates to individuals. As a tax attorney, I primarily work with partnerships and corporations, and so my volunteer experience provides a helpful balance to my practice area.”

McDonald said she started working for the EKS program to use her accounting degree to help others.  

“I was a single parent with two toddlers making $10 an hour — I’ve been there. [I volunteer because] I may have some survivor’s guilt.”

To learn more about the EKS program and the EITC visit: earnitkeepitsaveit.org.

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