OTTUMWA — This volunteer opportunity is different than the traditional “helper at a soup kitchen.” For one thing, volunteers can’t be afraid of computers. Or numbers.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is sponsored by the United Way of Wapello County. They’ve found that for some families, a professional tax preparer costs more money than a reduced income may allow them to spend. Wendy Davis, VITA site coordinator, said volunteers learn to use a program to input numbers, then provide free tax preparation assistance to low- and middle-income filers.
But, stressed Wendy Davis, you don’t need to be a math whiz. Davis is the local site coordinator for the program.
“They just have to be interested and be willing to spend some time doing it,” she said.
The computer really does do the bulk of the math, said a previous volunteer.
“I have no financial background, and I did it last year,” said Ali Wilson, whose office is down the hall from Davis. “The skill is really knowing where to put the information.”
She said not only was helping people fun (she’s the director at the United Way’s Volunteer Center), she felt the experience was useful providing her with a new level of comfort preparing her own taxes. While the software does do all the math, volunteers need to know basic things they’ll be asked. For example, what qualifies as income and what doesn’t? On the other hand, Wilson said, there was always someone around who could answer her questions.
“It would give somebody tax preparation experience, and somebody could use that on a resume,” Davis said.
Students who seek hours for community service, either for a class or for a college application, could also benefit.
But the people who really benefit, Davis said, are the low-income individuals getting their taxes prepared.