Connecticut’s capital city of Hartford, which struggles with high poverty rates, is just down the road from Walker’s campus, but it can seem miles away in reality. Seniors Eliza Wetmore and Maddie Ross came face-to-face with that reality last year as participants in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Wetmore and Ross joined more than 30 Walker’s community members in receiving the IRS-certified training to assist those who qualify for free tax support.
In 2017, the girls supported two VITA tax-filing sites as intake specialists and tax preparers. They gained valuable knowledge of tax law and the online filing process, and, at the same time, about the struggles of working families.
“We’re passionate about working with the Hartford community,” Ross says. “It’s important for each of us to acknowledge our privilege and use that to serve others.”
She recalls one experience that showed the real-world impact of their volunteer hours. “After working with one client to complete his return online, we discovered that his refund amounted to a quarter of his wages. There was no better feeling than seeing the surprised and happy look on his face,” Ross said, who found the program valuable to her interests in public policy and urban studies.
Another VITA volunteer, Eliza Wetmore, who plans to pursue accounting or finance, found her time with Hartford families provided important insights for her community and career interests. “I love math, and the VITA program was a chance to both improve my financial literacy and serve the community,” Wetmore explains. “While we’re not expected to know tax filing procedure from memory, we do need to be able to locate the information we need in the binder to help each client with their tax return.”
Walker’s students will be out at the 25 VITA sites throughout the Greater Hartford area through the April 17, 2018 tax-filing season.