Each year, students volunteer with the Community Tax Centers of Austin as part of the Tax Practicum course led by Brian Lendecky and J Kamas, lecturers in accounting. It’s often a life-changing experience for these students as they help low-income families get the most out of their tax returns. This fulfilling opportunity to give back to the community definitely had an impact on this year’s students and several shared their stories, highlighting how much this volunteer opportunity can impact not only the student but also the people they volunteer to help.
Before this internship, I had never prepared a tax return. At first I was very nervous and did not think I would be able to complete a single return. I was able to pass the basic and advanced certification test, so I knew I could be successful. After a while, I became comfortable with the software that we used and was no longer afraid of taxes. My two site managers, Vanessa and Sonya, both volunteers at Foundation Communities, were some of the nicest and most helpful people I have ever met. Any time I had a question or did not know how to do something they would gladly teach me how to do it. This organization is full of wonderful volunteers and I was happy to be one of those volunteers.
Early into the tax season I had a client who was in her 50s or 60s. As we were coming to the end of her tax return, we told her the refund amount which was around $300. Having previous clients who had their refund amount in the multiple thousands, I didn’t make much of her return until she broke out into a huge smile and started sharing all the things she would be able to do with her refund. Experiencing the joy and happiness that $300 brought her made me value money more. Her whole mood lightened up and she seemed as if she had won a lottery. While she was getting a quality review done, I went back outside to help with the intake process. She came up to me on her way out and thanked me for all the help and asked if she could hug me. Of course, I said yes. I was left standing there, reflecting on how one little thing I had done meant so much for someone.
I realized the importance and impact of listening while volunteering at the Foundation Communities Centers. All clients have one thing in common: they want someone to listen to them. For example, I had a client who recently overcame homelessness and is now working. As I was preparing her taxes, she was venting to me about some of her problems, especially her concern about owing the government money. By the end of the return, I was ecstatic to tell her she did not owe any money! She was so happy she actually cried. As she was leaving, she told me she was not only grateful that I managed to get her a big refund, but even more, she was grateful that I listened to her problems and offered her my suggestions. That is when I realized the importance of listening and how much of an impact it can make on others.
I was doing the quality review for a married couple with a baby. As I looked over their return, I saw they were getting a refund. However, I also noticed they were paying $695 for the husband not having healthcare. When someone initially has no healthcare exemption, preparers must go through the process of finding the prices for the lowest bronze and silver plan in the area and see if 8.13% of their income is less than the lowest monthly plan multiplied by 12. This can be quite complex and I decided to redo the process, realizing he did qualify for an unaffordability exemption. The couple was so excited and began thanking me profusely. It was such a joy to help a small family get the largest refund possible.