Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” What he failed to mention was that filing taxes can put the fear of death into some people.
All too often we take for granted the simple things in life. Routine creates the illusion of simplicity. You do something often enough and it becomes second nature. We tend to forget the anxiety and stress that comes with doing something for the very first time.
This was the case for Edgar Rosales, a young 19-year-old boy from Richmond. Edgar came to a Catholic Charities of the East Bay Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinic a year ago to ask for help. “Being raised by a single mom, she was always busy… I had to go out there by myself, and finding out how to be a grown-up was a challenge. Then there was all this vocabulary that I wasn’t used to and I had to get help.”
This is a challenge that many young people face when it comes to filing taxes. However, the problem is not theirs alone. “Many people – youth, the elderly, and families – are scared of the process and feel overwhelmed by the language before them,” Says Laura Sharples, Safety Net and Asset Development program director at Catholic Charities. “Many of them simply cannot afford to use the services that tax professionals provide and they seek help in all the wrong places.”
This is why VITA is such an important program. “It puts money back into the hands of the community,” said longtime Catholic Charities board member and VITA volunteer Rita Mitchell. Our Vita program filed 916 federal returns last year and managed to get back $1.4Million in federal refunds. In addition, by filing through VITA, our clients were not charged the normal fees which can cost up to several hundred dollars per household.
This is a program by the people and for the people, with 95% of the program being run by IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers. They are the backbone of the program. Mouang Fin Lowe has been volunteering for the last 2 years. “It’s very rewarding to be able to do something that seems so normal to me, but for someone else makes such a huge impact.”
VITA is one of the pillars of Catholic Charities that helps us “Foster Self-Sufficiency.” “I can be really tired after a long day at work but giving people the news that they will get a tax refund that will help them either pay off debt or school fees for their children or be able to save that refund for a rainy day makes me forget how tired I am and reminds me why I’m here,” says Laura Sharples. “Having the ability to help people to do just a little bit more after many sacrifices throughout the year – that makes all the difference. That is how we at Catholic Charities try to Foster Self-sufficiency and lift up the community and all who live in it.”
Do you think that you might be a good volunteer match for the VITA program? If so, please contact Jason Sullivan-Halpern, volunteer coordinator at (510) 768-3166 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.