April 5, 2016

New Volunteer Initiatives Bolster UNHP Free Tax Preparation Program


UNHP’s Free Tax Preparation Program is in its 9th season and still growing and improving thanks to new partners, increased volunteer efforts and enhanced on-site services.

Although it is just one of the many free financial services offered at the Northwest Bronx Resource Center, the UNHP Free Bronx Tax Preparation program is certainly our most popular. UNHP is on track to help over 1,300 low-income Bronx residents file their taxes for free this year. The tax program runs from January through April, but planning and gathering of volunteers and partners starts in September. UNHP was assisted in our efforts to recruit and train volunteers this year thanks to our participation in the NYC Civic Corps Program. Civic Corps members, Jose Rosado and Ingrid Marin, began working with us in September and recruited and trained volunteers, created a new resident and peer ambassador initiative and provided financial services to community residents.

Civic Corps member, Ingrid (left) with Assistant Northwest Bronx Resource Center Director, Niki, is ready to speak to prospective volunteers at the IRS Recruitment Fair. Civic Corps member, Jose (right) trained student volunteers to assist with greeting and intake at the UNHP Free Tax Preparation Program.

The Civic Corps members worked with UNHP to create a Peer and Resident Ambassador Program. Residents Ambassadors were recruited from neighborhood residents who have used multiple financial education programs at UNHP, such as coaching, our tax program and/or participated in the 10 hour Getting Ahead financial education class. Resident Ambassadors were trained to provide information on our services, committed to helping with neighborhood outreach and assisting at our programs. The Peer Ambassadors were recruited from local colleges and they were also trained to understand UNHP financial services,provide information to tax clients, print credit reports and coordinate volunteer efforts at their colleges. UNHP plans to continue to work through the ambassador program to get client feedback, assistance with our programs and to create volunteer advocates at local colleges.

Ambassadors earn their UNHP pins!
Allen (left) worked as a UNHP Peer Ambassador this year. Allen, a Fordham student majoring in political science, provided credit reports for tax clients and informed clients about our other services. Greg (left) is a resident ambassador and worked to spread the word about our services to his neighbors. Greg, a fan of UNHP financial services, has met with UNHP’s financial coach, participated in the NTFP Getting Ahead ten-hour workshop and is a tax client.

Civic Corps members recruited and trained 75 volunteers primarily from local colleges; 39 students from Manhattan College, 23 from Fordham University, 1 each from Bronx Community College and Monroe College, 3 members from Civic Corps and eight adult volunteers from the professional sector. The UNHP tax program runs on its volunteers. They agree to take a 15 hour on-line training for VITA, an additional on-site 8 hour training and then prepare taxes with oversight for low-income Bronx residents.

Blue Shirt UNHP Volunteers.
Yujia and Puja from Fordham University team up with Vedawatti from Manhattan College to greet clients and administer the tax intake process. Miracle, a Civic Corps member, keeps waiting children from two tax client families happy and engaged while Mom and Dad get their taxes done for free.

(Clockwise) UNHP volunteers are the backbone of the tax program. Jessica from Fordham University, Mike from Manhattan College, Sarah from Fordham University join adult returning volunteer Melanie to provide an alternative to high priced tax preparation services in our community. Most of our student volunteers are accounting and finance majors. Our adult volunteers, like Melanie, usually have tax experience and want to offer their time and talents to a community-based tax program.

New and strengthened partnerships combined with trained volunteers and experienced UNHP staff laid the foundation for a professional, comprehensive, successful no-fee tax prep program.  Ariva and Fordham Bedford Community Services (FBCS) are our primary partners for our Tax Preparation Program. Ariva, a leader in NYC tax preparation, is a certified IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program partner and provides access to the IRS TaxWise software, an experienced site manager, quality reviewers and technical assistance. FBCS is our primary community partner providing space, the FBCS Enterprise Heiskell Center Technology lab and most importantly the services of William Sanchez, FBCS Computer Services Coordinator,  an experienced quality reviewer and tax preparer for the program. UNHP provides senior staff, outreach, program coordination and significant program support. Jumelia Abrahamson, the Director of the Northwest Bronx Resource Center, and Fernanda Campos, a long-time seasonal staff member are both certified as site managers and are UNHP’s staff leaders for the tax program. TD Bank joined Apple Bank for Savings this year to offer free and affordable banking products on-site to tax clients. UNHP trained its intake staff to do preliminary screenings for SNAP and our partner SeedCo provided in-depth screenings and healthcare insurance access. Alma, the UNHP Financial Coach via The Financial Clinic volunteered at the tax site providing credit reports, and financial counseling. UNHP also worked with Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners to offer four ten-hour financial education workshops during the tax season.

Experienced UNHP, FBCS and Ariva tax staff provide support to student volunteers and directly assist tax clients by reviewing each tax return.( from left) Jumelia, trained site manager and Quality Reviewer for 5 years with Alma, UNHP’s financial coach trained by The Financial Clinic, William Sanchez,tax preparer for over 10 years and quality reviewer for 6 years, Svetlana, our Ariva Site Manager for the third year with UNHP QR and Credit Maven VaNessa and Fernanda Campos, a Baruch accounting student who has worked for UNHP as our tax coordinator for four years.

UNHP also began a partnership late in the tax season with New York State Office of Taxation and Finance to provide self-assisted tax filings to Bronx residents who are just outside the IRS Vita income limits and earn up to $62,000 a year.

New York State Department of Taxation and Finance Facilitated Self Assistance (FSA) program is a free, safe, and accurate way to file for those who earn less than $62,000 a year. New York State Tax Department volunteers guide clients through  tax preparation software electronically prepare and file a personal income tax return at no charge.  This program assists Bronx residents who are just outside of the IRS VITA income guidelines.Photo Credit: Dana Ullman