Big Fun With Taxes!
by Ondrea Keith, Bonner CSL Americorps VISTA, OC ’10
Even though I’ve graduated from OberlinCollege and now work for the Bonner Center for Service and Learning (BCSL), I still had a Winter Term project: ﬁlling out federal, state, and localschool district tax returns for free for local LorainCounty residents.
Everybody groans in sympathywhen I say my job is taxes, but it’s not as tediousor mathematical as common knowledge wouldimply.
Taxes are fun, especially when I can usethem as a tool to put money in the pockets of Lorain County residents.
This year, taxes were bigfun when I helped bring back over $160,000 toLorain County in the form of tax refunds.
My job as a full-time Americorps*VISTA atthe BCSL is to work as a community trainer for theOhio Beneﬁt Bank (OBB), an Internet-basedprogram that connects
low and moderate-incomeOhioans with access to tax ﬁling assistance andwork supports, such as food assistance and theHome Energy Assistance Program. The OBB is ajoint collaboration between the Ohio Associationof Second Harvest Foodbanks and the Governor’sOfﬁce of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.My focus as an OBB community trainer is Oberlinand southern Lorain County.
I work very closelywith Oberlin Community Services to reach out tocommunity members who might ﬁnd the OBBservices useful.
I do take all the appointmentsmyself; I am lucky to work with a core group of 8extraordinary OBB student and communitymember volunteers who have participated in a six-hour training to learn how to use the Ohio BeneﬁtBank software ﬁll out tax and beneﬁts forms.
This is the second year of the OBB projectat the BCSL.
Claudine Brenner (OC ’09) startedthe project and did an amazing job---for the 2010tax season she and her volunteers ﬁled 64federal, state, and local school district returns tobring back over $76,000 in tax returns to LorainCounty.
This year, people remembered what shedid for them, spread the word, and came back indroves.
Over the course of 4 all-day tax clinicsand a few walk-in appointments, the 2011 OberlinOBB volunteers ﬁled 87 tax returns that broughtback $161,760 to Lorain County residents.
And a big service to the community.
Thatmoney paid bills, bought playground equipment,furnished homes with new furniture, and paddedsavings accounts; even when a client owed taxes,at least they did not have to pay a hefty fee to atax preparation service to learn how much wasowed.
But what I will remember most is thepeople behind the tax returns.
I heard many lifestories; you learn a lot about someone in a shorttime when they trust you enough to handlesensitive ﬁnancial information.
As I write this tax season ofﬁcially ends inthree days, but I am already looking ahead tonext year.
My replacement needs to be recruited,timelines of how to host a tax clinic need to made,and volunteers need to be recruited and trained.Because next year?
Next year is going to be evenbigger fun.If you would like to get involved, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com learn about new training opportunitiesand look for the ExCo course in the 2011fall semester called Poverty: TakingAction.
Winter Term opportunities arealso available.