Volunteering for VITA Delivers Results

This tax season, David Rajala, is volunteering with Fulfill to help people complete their tax returns. David estimates the hours he puts in will result in around $100,000 of tax refunds for people in the community this year!

Fulfill offers tax refund services, including tax preparation, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.  This is a free, IRS-sponsored program to help individuals prepare and file their personal income taxes at no cost. This is the fourth year in which David, a retired engineer from Colts Neck, has volunteered for the VITA program, helping people to prepare their taxes, and spearheading recruitment efforts, to encourage more volunteers.

When asked why he volunteers with the program, David tells us,
“I can’t think of any other way to spend my time to have such an impact.”

VITA volunteer, Dave Rajala

After his very first client received a $10,000 tax refund, David applied his analytical skills to track his time and results.  Even though a $10,000 refund is not typical, he estimates that in his first year, each hour he volunteered to provide tax preparation help resulted in approximately $890 dollars in tax refunds.

So what’s it like to be a VITA program volunteer?  David explains there are two parts, the training, and the tax preparation work. “You don’t have to be an accountant to do this stuff,” says David. “Training sessions are very good at focusing on what you need to know to pass the IRS tests. The [tax preparation] software is very user-friendly these days…If you have a minimal level of computer literacy, you won’t have difficulty,” he adds, reassuringly.

Once training is complete, volunteers work a couple of shifts a week at one of the VITA tax preparation locations in the community, such as at the local shopping mall, or library, working with other tax preparation assistance and a site supervisor. “You never have any fear that you are going to be on your own and be stuck,” said David. “It’s a very pleasant working environment, there are always people around to help.”

For David, the role brings a lot of rewards, particularly a feeling of accomplishment, through helping others in this way. “You are in front of the client,  and you have to think and problem solve in real time,” he explains. “Sometimes you feel it immediately, their expression of gratitude.” He also notes how the work had a more far-reaching impact, “[I saw] how many social injustices are apparent in our society…it made me more of an activist to remedy them.”

David has worked with clients in many different circumstances, including those who are not aware of benefits due to them, those who are handling their finances for the first time after a divorce, and those whose working situations have changed, leading to a reduction in hours or multiple jobs.

“One woman came in with eight W2s and 1099s,” he explained. “She was a music teacher who lost her full-time position after budget cuts and

Dave Rajala pictured with his wife, Karen Rajala, who is also a Fulfill volunteer.

was able to get hired into part-time positions by a number of different schools around the county to do the same kind of work. She didn’t know how to file as self-employed but had tracked her miles and expenses she incurred with these teaching positions that could be deducted, but she was not a numbers person.” David helped her to figure it out and get the tax refund she deserved.

David also helps with recruiting people to join the VITA volunteer team. He has recruited people from the community of retirees around Colts Neck, from his fellow retirees who worked at AT&T/Bell Labs, and also from local colleges and universities. “The skills that you use in this job are valuable for new job seekers,” he explains. “Customer contact skills, communication, and interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, and IRS-certified tax preparation skills are some examples.” As a VITA volunteer, you’re not only delivering helpful and measurable results to others but also building new skills for yourself and gaining real-world job experience to put on your resume.

The next challenge? Scaling the project to help more people.  And for that more volunteers are needed each tax year. If you would like to learn more about volunteering with the VITA program or if you have students who might be interested, please contact Dennis Vega.

If you need tax preparation assistance, get more information on the Fulfill website, or dial 211 on your phone!