When someone or something turns 50 years old, a celebration is mandatory. That’s why United Way of Greater Los Angeles went all-out in 2019 to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program — and the results are as impressive as we had hoped.

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Run through the IRS, the VITA program allows everyday folks to get certified to help low-income households complete their taxes for free. Tax filers not only save on tax preparation costs, but are supported in claiming all of their eligible tax credits including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), CalEITC, Child Tax Credit, and those that can be found on their normal tax return.

20190126_144541.jpg United Way has been involved with VITA for 12 years now, and prior to 2018, served as a megaphone for the program by promoting it to clients through our economic mobility and community impact work as well as to volunteers, linking them to trainings provided by our partners including Koreatown Youth & Community Center, El Centro de Ayuda, Building Skills Partnership, and more.

But in 2018, we knew we needed to do more. We hosted two 6-hour trainings, trained 41 people — 26 of whom became certified and completed 236 hours of service in the community that generated $825,000 for families and households across LA County. Not a bad start!

But this year, our community proved to us that folks are hungry to be part of VITA. In 2019, 100 volunteers attended 9 trainings, 92 of them got certified, and they volunteered – wait for it – 1,252 hours helping families file their taxes! That’s more than five times last year’s hours, for a total economic impact of more than $4.35 million. Talk about commitment!

Two highlights from this year include East West Bank providing all the volunteers for a VITA Tax Preparation Event in partnership with 3DBFADC4-FD33-4B49-B934-54A50BFE4442 - Copy.jpeg East Los Angeles Community Corporation and the Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago. Together, the volunteers served more than 80 clients, generating nearly half a million dollars of community impact.

The other highlight starts with an email from Carolyn Galantine, Professor of Accounting at Pepperdine University, asking how her students could get VITA trained and certified. VITA certification counts for 10% of their grade in her course. Once she learned about our VITA program, it was not long before we scheduled United Way’s first “off-site” VITA Training on the campus of Pepperdine!

Thanks to Professor Galantine’s coordination support, we certified an additional 26 volunteers, who have reported more than 135 hours of volunteering. This has also cast the mold for future VITA training partnerships. In 2020, we hope to host many more off-site trainings to meet volunteers “where they’re at,” literally!

Thank you to all the volunteers who participated in this year’s program and attended our VITA Volunteer Appreciation Event at the Stocking Frame Restaurant in Downtown L.A. on April 24. $4M of impact doesn’t happen without the effort, skill, and commitment of each VITA volunteer, and we cannot wait for next year’s VITA program to be even stronger.