Tiffany is one of the people CTA volunteers support. She regularly cooks too much just to give food to homeless neighbors. Explaining why she does this, Tiffany said, “I’m blessed by the best, I’m highly favored and I don’t stress.”
When we started talking about tax preparation assistance she said, “Taxes are something that people need … everybody doesn’t get money the way they are supposed to.” For Tiffany, her tax refund means she can pay her rent, or “it might help my child get things that he needs, the things every child needs.”
Mr. Burch has been getting his taxes done for years with CTA volunteers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, and this year he eagerly awaited the call to schedule his appointment. Shortly after he arrived at the site, it became clear that his tax situation had changed and it was now out of scope for the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Rather than turn him away, Elisa, a CTA volunteer, walked him through preparing his own return using the coached self-preparation program at myfreetaxes.com. “I am glad to be able to get my taxes done and not have to go to a paid preparer,” said Mr. Burch. Although some taxpayer’s situations are out of scope for the VITA program we strive to connect clients with other free options such as coached self preparation, or the IRS free file program.
I talked to Alexis who has been taking care of her mother for years. When I spoke with her, she had just completed her intake interview and dropped off her documents with the intake volunteer.
Alexis said she appreciated the drop off process at the United Planning Organization (UPO) site and the individual attention she always receives. Over the years, Patrice, her intake volunteer, has helped Alexis understand the complexities of her tax return. And when I spoke with Patrice, she said that working with the free tax filing program is incredibly rewarding, especially when she gets to see tax filers like Alexis come back year after year.
Alexis comes because taxes are not her field–her field is healthcare. She described how it has been harder since 2021, “Because I lost my truck. And I haven’t been able to get back and forth. And I’ve also been home with my mom since she has had problems. So I’ve been at home.”
Alexis is proud because she knows how to “keep money away and keep it there”. We talked about how these savings often ended up becoming an emergency fund for what her mother cannot cover. “Me being the caretaker, I can’t really enjoy my money because I have to make sure my mom is straight.” She told me how last year this included taking care of the taxes on the property they live in. The mortgage thankfully is paid off, but the rising property taxes on the house are a struggle. When I asked her how she plans to use her refund this year, she told me it was again all going to pay property taxes on the family home. Her advice to others when managing their money is, “Put your needs over your wants. You’re going to want all the time.”
I met with Jennifer who told me how in her 12 years volunteering with CTA she has really enjoyed how clear and organized the program is run. Jennifer shared with me that at the end of last tax season, she was at 944 hours volunteering with Community Tax Aid. She is now the assistant site coordinator at the Alexandria site. Jennifer has enjoyed taking on more responsibility as she gained experience. She stepped up when a key leadership role was suddenly vacant and several experienced people like herself worked together to cover all the duties.
Jennifer told me about a quality review that made a huge difference for a tax filer. She caught in review that the tax filer could claim her brother as a dependent which resulted in a much greater refund for the tax filer.
Every spring, students from American University – Kogod School of Business come together to volunteer with Community Tax Aid and positively impact the local community. Many of these students are in their first or second year and have never seen a tax return before, but are eager to take on the challenge and help those in need.
Mrs. White, a taxpayer at MLK, was impressed by the American University volunteers’ work, noting their ability to explain everything clearly, ask relevant questions, and maintain good eye contact. Caroline, the Managing Director of the Kogod Tax Policy Center, is proud of these students’ efforts to give back to the community, and she believes that the next generation of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers can help fill the nationwide 40,000 volunteer gap left by the COVID pandemic.
Young Min, who volunteers at the tax site with a friend from American University, finds many benefits in volunteering. He is reminded of his parents when he sees older people seeking tax services, and it makes his day when clients receive their tax refunds. Young Min even landed an internship at Price Waterhouse Coopers with his VITA experience. He believes that volunteering provides invaluable experience that can significantly impact one’s future career.
The Kogod VITA Volunteer Corps, which is being chartered by Caroline and her class this semester, is an exciting initiative that will allow students who have volunteered for a season to mentor incoming volunteers and spread the word around campus about VITA. This will provide even more opportunities for students to gain valuable experience and make a positive impact on the community.
It is heartening to see American University students using their skills and knowledge to give back to the community and provide much-needed assistance to low-income individuals and families. Young Min plans to continue supporting CTA after his program service work in another country next spring. Until then, his peers and Caroline will be providing this crucial service to our community.
Duane Rosenberg has every fiber of his body geared to the community. He served for many years on the New Carrollton City Council and also served as mayor., is active in many big and small ways in the community, and is one of CTA’s dedicated, long-time site coordinators. Duane is a Certified Public Accountant who understands the importance of taxes and how they can significantly impact individuals and families, especially those with limited resources.
When the CTA site was located at City Hall, Duane partnered with Ebenezer Food Bank to provide groceries and meals, creating a festive atmosphere that made the site even more welcoming. Now, he runs the New Carrollton site out of his own house, and during our interview, one of our clients, Effie, stopped by to pick up her return. She shared how she was planning to use her refund to re-roof her house, and without hesitation, Duane offered her the number of a good roofer he had just used for his own house that she could contact for one of her estimates. The roofer even provided free estimates, making the process much easier for Effie.
For Duane, helping his neighbors and connecting with the community is a motivation that brings him great satisfaction. He loves seeing people happy and knowing that he played a role in meeting their needs. Taxes are an area where he feels he can be especially helpful, and completing CTA training and passing the IRS exams was just a natural extension of his desire to give back.
Duane first learned about CTA through an AICPA newsletter with an article on how he could help with tax preparation through our organization. He was immediately drawn to the opportunity to use his skills and expertise to assist those in need. “Some of the taxpayers want to bake me cookies, but I don’t eat sweets,” Duane joked. “For me, it’s about the community, like Effie, and the satisfaction of seeing this need met.”
We’re grateful for Duane and all of our volunteers who share his passion for community service and helping others. They’re the heart and soul of CTA, and their commitment to our mission makes a real difference in the lives of low-income individuals and families.