Take Action Against Poverty—Senior Volunteers Make the Difference!

Perhaps you are interested in making a direct impact in your community, but don't know where to start. Good news—we have a great volunteering opportunity waiting for you!

United Way of King County is currently seeking volunteers to join Free Tax Campaign. Through our flexible program, volunteers help struggling families and individuals prepare their taxes, give them access to savings opportunities, and connect them to public benefits, including food assistance, health care, and free financial counseling.

Seniors and retirees are an important factor in the success of our campaign by contributing extensive and valuable work experience. By using your skills—financial, customer service, or otherwise—you can empower your fellow community members to make a difference in thousands of lives in King County.

What impact does this make?

To put this campaign into perspective, it is important to note the impact our free tax prep services make on the people we serve. Washington State's tax system is the least equitable in the country—lower-income residents pay six times more of their income in taxes than the top one percent of our state.

Some Free Tax Prep volunteers were stationed at the downtown branch of Seattle Public Library last year.

On top of that, predatory tax preparers exploit people's confusion around taxes, charging upwards of $300 for a tax return. If lower-income families and individuals utilize our free financial services instead, they can keep that money in their pockets. Additionally, the average tax refund from one of our tax prep sites is $1,700. Together that’s nearly $2,000 back to the people who need it most.

Programs like the Free Tax Campaign play an important role in reducing poverty and empowering people in our community. The Free Tax Campaign is one of the largest Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Programs in the nation, and the largest in the state of Washington. As such, we aim to help our community get the most out of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal anti-poverty measure that boosts tax refunds for low-income workers. Last tax season, the campaign helped over 19,900 community members file their taxes, bringing $27.2 million back to the community in tax refunds!

Why volunteer?

Every year hundreds of seniors and retirees make up a large portion of our volunteer base and are continually a source of support for this campaign. One of our long-time supporters, Belinda G., is a retiree who has been volunteering with us since 2011. This year—her sixth year—she plans to take on four volunteer shifts at both the Kent and Rainier Community Center sites.

Volunteers gathered to celebrate the success of the 2015 Free Tax Prep campaign—19,900 tax returns yielded refunds of $27.2 million for lower-income residents.

Belinda says, "The reason why I keep coming back to volunteer is because it allows me to keep busy. Before I retired, I was so used to spending most of my time working. This campaign makes me feel like I can use my skills to help others even though I may not be working anymore. Not only that, I get to meet so many people and become friends with my fellow volunteers. It's really a great experience."

We invite you to join us for a weekly shift from January 11–April 21, 2016. Volunteers can choose from being a tax preparer or welcoming clients and connecting them to healthcare and other public benefits as an Intake and Benefits Specialist.

While volunteers are needed at all locations throughout King County, the need for help is especially great in Rainier Beach, SeaTac, Tukwila, West Seattle, and White Center. We encourage you to participate, share your experience, and help grow our campaign. Senior volunteers truly make the difference.

For more information and sign up to volunteer at uwkc.org/taxvolunteer.

Questions? Feel free to ask us any questions you may have at freetax@uwkc.org.

Contributor Jennifer Hong is an AmeriCorps member working in financial empowerment programs at United Way of King County.