Guest Blogger: Chunmeng (Joyce) Wang
February 13th was a remarkable day for me because it was my first day of doing VITA. I volunteered at St. Luke’s Community House.
Although I had heard some stories from other VITA volunteers and had taken hours of training, I still felt a little nervous on the eve of February 13th. I didn’t know what I was going to face and thus didn’t know what to prepare. As an international student, I was worried about both English language and body language communications with the clients who have diverse backgrounds; as a new volunteer, I was worried that there would not be enough time to learn in the real site; and as a fresh tax preparer, I was worried that if I encountered a complex tax situation, I would not be able to handle it and would mess up the client’s tax return. I had even seen in my imagination that all the clients were in a rush and my coworkers were all having serious faces.
However, all my worries were relieved from the moment I opened the door of this site. When I walked into the tax preparation room, I saw several clients waiting in the lobby, patiently. A site assistant saw my VITA T-shirt, so he came and led me to the site manager’s office. People working in the office were all very nice. They got everything ready for me very carefully. Several minutes later, I received a specific login account for tax returns and a name tag with my name on it. I was then led to the room where we do tax returns. Surprisingly, I received a super warm welcome and found that the majority of the tax preparers in the room are my classmates in UTD: February early birds!
There were three first-day volunteers including myself and three experienced volunteers who had more volunteer experience. So each of us first-day volunteers were assigned an experienced volunteer as a temporary teacher. My teacher was Zoe Zhou. I was lucky because I got enough time to learn from Zoe about how to check clients’ documents and where to input the tax information into the system. There were not many clients that day, so Zoe Zhou and I waited and finally got three clients in my three and a half hours. I saw Social Security Cards and real W-2 forms for the first time! There were also other documents such as Cancellation of Debt statement, charitable contribution records, and so on. Those various original documents reminded me that I was preparing a REAL tax return. Sometimes, I felt excited when the knowledge I learned could be exactly used for my client. For example, when we prepare the return for a 2013 divorced client, we could use the last day rule to conclude that this client belonged to “single” status for tax return. But given that the client supported several children, the client’s status could be head of household. After doing two returns, I got a sense of about how much the refund would be according to the number of dependents. That sense helped me corrected my incorrect return for the third client. After completing the tax return for the third client, I found the refund amount they received was relatively small and this did not make sense to me. Since I wasn’t sure, Zoe Zhou and I went back to check, and Zoe found that I missed some information about the dependents when inputting data. I want to give a big thank you to my patient teacher!
There was a relatively complex tax situation that day. One of my coworkers had a client with a lot of documents and spent at least an hour to prepare that client’s return. I saw the site manager and site assistant were always there to back up that coworker and answer all questions. After that return, I am sure that this coworker learned a lot from that one-hour tax return. I also learned how to deal with the cancellation of debt under the help of the site assistant.
After three and a half hours of volunteering, I was so happy because of the clients who casually talked with us, because of the coworkers and site staff who guided me and discussed tax knowledge with me, and because of the tax knowledge I practiced and newly learned. We each received a thank you letter from St. Luke’s site manager Linda Edwards for the volunteer work. I would also like to thank Linda who helped us complete such meaningful and rewarding volunteer work.
Thank you, Linda and thanks to the VITA Program for giving me a chance to help the community!