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QCC Volunteers Help the Community One Tax Form at a Time

January, 2019
  • From left: Helen Hatzopoulos, Eduardo Rivas and Benjamin Aryeh
    From left: VITA volunteer Helen Hatzopoulos, QCC Enrollment Counselor and VITA Coordinator Eduardo Rivas and QCC Student Trustee and VITA volunteer Benjamin Aryeh

For many, the thought of the upcoming tax season can bring about trepidation, confusion and uncertainty. Imagine trying to figure out your taxes if English is not your first language or if you have a disability. In Worcester, the Volunteer Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax preparation and electronic filing to low and moderate income families (making $54,000 or less), persons with disabilities and limited English speakers who may need assistance in preparing their own taxes. The program is run by volunteers in the community who are looking to give back to their community and runs from January to April. It’s offered through the Worcester Free Tax Service Coalition at four locations: the Worcester Community Action Council, Inc., Main South Community Development Corporation (CDC), Plumley Village and Worcester State University.

Volunteers do not need any previous accounting experience and will be trained. Every volunteer must pass a certification test in order to be a certified tax preparer and help with tax preparation. QCC student volunteers work out of the Main South CDC location.

QCC Offers A Variety of Options

This program has become near and dear to the heart of QCC Enrollment Counselor Eduardo Rivas, who was a volunteer in the program for several years when he was a student and is now the VITA Program Coordinator at QCC. He had become a volunteer while at QCC and was able to use the experience for prior learning credit. He continued to volunteer each year thereafter.

The program at QCC is already expanding exponentially since Mr. Rivas has taken over.

“Last year we had 24 volunteers in total. When I took over the position it was 10 or 11 volunteers,” he said, noting that they helped approximately 290 families.

One of those QCC volunteers was Business Administration major Helen Hatzopoulos. She worked as a volunteer last year and obtained prior learning credit for the experience. This year she is volunteering again.

“The training wasn’t too difficult. You have a book and then you get hands-on experience, learning as you go. It looks really good on your resume,” Ms. Hatzopoulos said, adding, “It’s a very welcoming place and giving back to the community is very rewarding. They are very grateful.”

Today, Mr. Rivas is taking the existing volunteer training program at the college and expounding upon it to include, for the first time, a class that QCC business majors can take as a program elective or as a free elective for any major.  Mr. Rivas said he took some valuable pointers from a class he took at Assumption College as part of his MBA degree.  Students who register for the class (ACC 225 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), must attend training during the first two-weeks of classes and become certified as a tax preparer, which they will do in class. Students will then be required to complete 12, three-hour sessions at Main South CDC and attend a recognition ceremony.

Students also still have the prior learning credit option or just straight volunteering. Mr. Rivas said unlike other area colleges who do this type of volunteer training, no one from outside the QCC community will be turned away from volunteering. The only caveat, they must be certified to participate. In fact, he had a PHD student from Worcester Polytechnic Institute reach out and volunteer last year and has had Assumption College reach out and refer volunteers.

A Hope for the Future

QCC Student Trustee Benjamin Aryeh is a big advocate of the VITA program and its positive impact not only on QCC students, but on the community as a whole. He is currently training to be a volunteer and is working with Mr. Rivas on getting the word out.

I’m passionate about working with people and I have the soft skills that will be helpful in helping people prepare their taxes. I’m a bilingual speaker so I will be able to help translate. I like helping to serve the underrepresented population,” he said.

Mr. Rivas said that recently the Worcester Housing Authority approached the Worcester Tax Coalition to discuss ways to either open their own site or affiliate with one of the four existing sites.

“This information was brought during our last coordinators’ meeting. I contacted the Worcester Tax Coalition to see if some of our QCC students could prepare taxes at their office to start a partnership with them," he said, adding that Mr. Aryeh would be interested in taking the lead on this initiative.

“My goal this year is to increase the number of volunteers and prepare returns for more people,” Mr. Rivas said.

For those interested in learning how to become a volunteer for the 2018 tax season, email Mr. Rivas at erivas [at] qcc.mass.edu

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