Tax preparation at the Rotary supported Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site at the United Way of Washtenaw County is fast approaching. Our Club provides both monetary and volunteer support to VITA. Robert Mull is our lead volunteer and has asked several of last season’s Rotary volunteers to provide a brief description of their experience with VITA. Bob as asked for honesty and you will see this in the statements that follow. More volunteers are needed. This service opportunity is one that requires a strong commitment but the rewards can be significant.
Steve Pierce: “I’m happy I became a VITA volunteer. My motivation was partly selfish. I’m an investment manager and thought being a tax-preparer would help my business. I did appreciate the training, and I’m glad to put it to use helping others. I enjoy interacting with people. A diverse group of individuals comes to us needing help. It’s rewarding and gives me great pride to give these people something of value.”
Paul Web: “Is there anything duller or less exciting than taxes? Perhaps earning too little to pay any taxes! Yet there are many who try to live, week by week, on the amount of our annual Rotary dues. Or even less. Or maybe not even that much next week. Being Rotarians, we think about the many who are worse off than we are. But can we really comprehend how lucky we are? Can we really imagine what it must be like to live as a single person on the Department of Health and Human Services 2018 poverty level of $12,140? Or less?
Working with VITA is among my most humbling experiences. It is eye-opening to meet, face-to-face, many who live – amazingly, live – on amounts that others consider pin money. Too many people are born behind the 8-ball, weighed down further with the millstone of poor resources, and however hard they try, they cannot escape from poverty. Others have been thrust down by unexpected life events; a fall, illness, accidents that bring with them bills while squashing earning ability. Others live daily with disabilities that constrain what they can do, what they can earn, what they can achieve. Yet so many are cheerful. Many help each other, neighbors, family members, sometimes strangers. A teenager middle-schooler may be the voice for a parent still struggling to fit in.
And they are grateful for our help. So for those of us with an odd fascination with taxes, VITA is a wonderful way to help others who probably should not be paying a dime. It is eye opening. It is humbling. It is challenging. And it brings many, unexpected, rewarding experiences.”
Karen Gladney: “My experience with the VITA program was surprisingly hard work. Even though as a business banker I am familiar with personal and business tax returns, I was new to the credits, deductions and qualifications required to successfully complete a tax return for low income individuals and their families in order to obtain the best tax refund possible. The training and testing to be a preparer look longer than I anticipated. And as expected, the IRS doesn’t make the tax code, or finding the answers to questions, all that easy.
Working with the clients that utilize the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program opened my eyes to the needs of people that don’t have the blessings of being of middle class income or above. And each person I met, and their families, were deeply appreciative of the support the program supplies.
Having a great, knowledgeable support team of Bob Mull, and the United Way staff made the work doable. It was rewarding to be of service to Washtenaw County residents. ”
Robert Buchanan: “VITA volunteers are folks who prepare income tax returns for low income people as part of our Rotary community outreach. This program is probably the most direct and instant form of community service. The clients often arrive frightened because they may not understand the income tax system, worried because they may have to pay. Rotary VITA volunteers, at no cost, take pride in preparing their returns in a friendly, relaxed environment. Each return may require about an hour so the volunteers may learn some of the intimate details of the clients lives, also can make it a learning experience.
I remember preparing a return for lady who worked as a substitute school teacher. She sensed that I was struggling, kept getting warning lights on the computer monitor so she said, “I might as well tell you, I live in my car.” I was able to continue and found a good refund for her. Then she replied, “now I can get my own place to live, will not have to sleep in my car.”
Another single woman had 2 little boys, ages 4 and 6, worked as a night book keeper at a local motel. The computer monitor displayed her refund at the top left as green numbers (tax due is in red). With all the federal and state tax credits, her refund was over $5,000, enough to feed her 2 boys for close to a year taking food stamps into consideration. I suddenly realized that she was not moving, rather sat silently with big tears forming. I finished her return, did all the final checks, she stood up to leave but never said a word to me because she continued to cry as she walked away.
Similar stories develop constantly. I do not volunteer for any personal satisfaction, rather knowing that I have “done the right thing.”
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for Rotary, let Bob Mull know. One of the positions (Greeter) does not require you to do taxes at all, but is an important part of the VITA process.