Donate a little time. Make a BIG impact.

By Amanda Grover, Tax Program Coordinator

How many volunteer opportunities have you heard of that can make a $5,000 difference in someone’s life? Volunteers involved in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Services for West Michigan can tell you it is a very rewarding experience. Last tax season, volunteers assisted more than 2,200 households in West Michigan, and the economic impact of our efforts was greater than $2.4 million.

We are always looking for new volunteers! No accounting or tax experience is required – you only need a little time, some basic computer knowledge, and the desire to learn.

This free tax preparation program assists low-to moderate-income individuals, and for some, this is the largest lump sum of money they will receive all year. For some struggling families, these tax returns make a big difference – enabling them to stay in their homes, pay overdue bills, and buy groceries.

The program has been hugely beneficial to our community, and volunteering is a great opportunity to learn something new and develop a useful life-long skill. Our VITA volunteers have enjoyed getting to know each other and experiencing the camaraderie that results from our common goal. A few of our student volunteers turned the experience into an internship and a way to gain future job references. Regardless of the various benefits, volunteers agree that the biggest reward comes from the gratitude of people receiving the service, and learning first hand how much the return is going help that person or family.

The free tax preparation program has had a presence in Muskegon for over a decade. Goodwill became the lead agency for the program four years ago. There are lots of volunteer times and locations to choose from! This coming tax season, there will be 11 sites in four counties: Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, and Lake. Sites operate at various times but appointments are available anywhere between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. There will also be select sites operating on Saturdays.

To learn more about volunteering with VITA Services for West Michigan, please contact me at 231-722-7871, ext. 246 or send me an email at agrover@goodwillwm.org

VITA volunteers change lives

By Jane Drake, Prosperity Center Manager

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is an IRS-sponsored program that helps thousands of low-income taxpayers with free tax preparation assistance each year. The assistance is provided by volunteers who complete free training in tax law and pass IRS certification tests.

Why would anyone volunteer to go through hours of tax law training, take tests, and then sign up for shifts to prepare tax returns for strangers?  Our over 30 volunteers who worked at the VITA sites last tax season will tell you they do it because they are helping their communities, and they really do change lives. They help taxpayers who are struggling to claim all the refunds they have earned so they can pay bills, reduce debt, and even build savings.

I became a certified VITA volunteer last tax season. It was my first year managing the program. I thought it was important to have hands-on experience at the VITA tax sites. The work turned out to be more rewarding than I ever imagined.

First, I really enjoyed working with my fellow volunteers. Volunteers are by definition nice people – and VITA volunteers are no exception. They really do care about others and they want to make a difference.

Second, the clients were so appreciative and grateful for the services they received. It was not unusual for clients to hug us, send thank you notes, and even cry with joy and relief with the help we were able to provide them.

Finally, I was surprised to discover that I enjoyed doing taxes! Each return and client situation was different. I would apply all my new tax knowledge and sort out all the information the client provided, enter it into the tax software, and then make it all come out correctly in a nice, neat tax return.

More volunteers are needed! If you would like to spend some time with a great bunch of people, work with clients who will truly appreciate your help, and enjoy great satisfaction from doing worthwhile work, please join us and sign up to be a VITA volunteer. Contact Amanda Grover, Goodwill VITA Volunteer Coordinator, at 231-722-7871 ext. 246, or agrover@goodwillwm.org; or register online at www.abc-wm.volunteerhub.com.

You won’t regret it.