When you think about the different ways to aid those who may need it, chances are helping them file their taxes isn’t high on that list, if at all. But for Rosalind, she would come to find out that helping people get the money they’re due can, in some cases, be the biggest form of assistance anyone can provide.
Rosalind is a stay-at-home mom and Girl Scout Cookie Chair. Back in 2016, she saw an ad to join the Volunteer Income Tax Service program (VITA) after following the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on social media. While she couldn’t do it at the time, she kept that ad in the back of her mind. As 2022 rolled around, when she was ready to reenter the workforce, she researched VITA again, this time being directed to the United Way Bay Area Free Tax Help program at Sacred Heart Community Services in San Jose.
“I wanted to get recent and relevant experience,” she said. “I thought ‘you know, the IRS is training people – Why not?’”
She wanted two things: work experience that would help her go from stay-at-home mom to working mom in the field of accounting and to use that training to help others. She also wanted to assist people in person, believing in the trust that is built in one-on-one interaction. So, Rosalind began her journey: taking the classes, going through the training and testing, and earning the necessary certification from the IRS. What she learned, the skills and knowledge she would soon be putting into practice would give her valuable insights into a simple truth (more on that later).
“You don’t realize how much you don’t know until you learn something,” she said. “I’ve learned so much, [even] just being here with other people has improved my knowledge. There are so many people who don’t know they can get this credit, [or] that credit. And it amazes me because, yes, I have [used] TurboTax, and I do have basic knowledge, but some people don’t.”
She pointed out that using guided tax websites or software can be helpful if you have access to them, but, insight #1 – they only have you answer questions, they don’t help you understand why your taxes are the way they are and they don’t always know all the credits a person or family may qualify for given their specific situation.This is why Free Tax Help is so vital. Because insight #2 – not everyone has access to quality tax preparation services. The trained staff that volunteer their time are both accessible and knowledgeable; they can certainly help individuals prepare and file their taxes, but they can also be a live resource to answer questions and provide options. All at no cost to the client. During Rosalind’s first tax season volunteering, she was helping a woman prepare and file who had been experiencing homelessness. Working with Rosalind, the woman was able to receive a refund so substantial, according to Rosalind, it was life-changing.
“She lost [absolutely] everything. And now she’s getting back on her feet. And it’s like, what if Sacred Heart didn’t exist? What if we didn’t offer this free tax help? What if she never filed her taxes; never knew this money was available to her?”
Rosalind says people don’t usually think about tax refunds providing that level of financial help. But it can be an assistance avenue that so many never get access to because they don’t file, which is what she hopes to change. If you watch the video below, Rosalind talks about this moment, when she was able to tell the woman what she would be getting back. You can hear in her voice just how emotional their interaction turned out to be. Insight #3 – What if Rosalind never volunteered? What if there weren’t enough volunteers to go around? That simple truth mentioned earlier is that the need for specially trained tax preparation volunteers is great and continues to grow every year. Without more Rosalinds, more individuals and families experiencing poverty in the Bay Area, like the woman she helped, miss out on tax refunds that are due to them. The kind of refunds that can mean breathing room for expenses between paychecks or, in some cases, even housing.
“It struck me that this is a very amazing service. I just couldn’t believe just how much it could impact someone. I do consider myself a volunteer for life so I will be here next year and the year after that.”
You can join Rosalind in helping to provide access to no-cost quality tax services to our Bay Area neighbors. Visit the UWBA Free Tax Help Volunteer site for information about volunteering and getting your certification today!