Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lin Zhou shares her skills as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant

Currency of the Heart as expressed in the volunteer activity of an international graduate student from China who helped our CT senior population file their income tax returns.

Lin Zhou, born in China, educated in China and the US, has recently joined KPMG LLP, in the Stamford as a Tax Associate. After her graduation from Fairfield University with an MS in Accounting, she volunteered with Women's Perspective as Social Media Coordinator. She will continue in this capacity, hopefully for a long time.  Lin has a helping habit, a generous heart and a cheerful spirit.  She wrote the piece below describing her volunteer job as income tax preparer for seniors in Bridgeport.

My VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Experience

VITA is an IRS-sponsored program operated by local volunteers to provide free, confidential, and secure preparation and filing of Federal and State income taxes for taxpayers who qualify.

My story with VITA started in my senior year at college. It was also the second year after I transferred to the U.S. Hoping to have a better understanding of individual tax and wanting to be involved in some volunteer work, I signed up for the VITA program.

My job as a volunteer included greeting clients, helping them file their tax returns, reviewing tax returns prepared by other volunteers, and explaining finalized numbers to the clients. The volunteer experience changes with each VITA site as the target client group varies. I worked at two sites: one had a lot of senior clients and some low income families; the other site was mainly for international clients including international students, scholars, and immigrants. It was interesting to work with people from different backgrounds. I met all kinds of people. For example, some people are talkative. They shared their stories with me.

Some people are quiet. They came to me and just answered the questions I asked, without saying one more word. Although I majored in accounting and had good grades, I was confused about the tax system because I was from a country with a totally different system.  The VITA experience helped me gain real life tax experience. There were many Aha moments, when I assisted my clients with their tax returns. It was very exciting when those Aha moments happened.  The feeling was just like that after conceptual trainings, when a student driver starts and drives a car by himself/herself.

The most valuable aspect of the volunteer work is that I can make a difference for people with my knowledge. There was a time when a lady who came to me with her tax return, was very surprised with the results.

After having calculated and finalized all the numbers I told her she could get couple of dollars refund from IRS. She stared at me for seconds and started to weep. I thought she expected more refunds like many other clients, which happened all the time. Because people always want more money back. I explained to her that the numbers were finalized, so there should be no errors. But I’m happy to go through the tax return again with her. She stopped crying and explained that her own business bankrupted that year and she thought that she still needed to pay hundreds of dollars as in previous years. She said, "I am too happy to cry."

In my past two-year VITA experience, I met many people like her. I did not know what happened in
their life, but I did know that they needed my help. So, after I moved from Colorado to Connecticut to pursue my Master’s degree, I contacted the VITA site coordinator here and continued to volunteer again this year.

Rosemary Williams launched Currency of the Heart to inspire readers to “pay it forward” from the heart’s most precious currency. We’d love to hear from you! To share your story or to request permission to republish this blog post, please email rosemary@womensperspective.org.

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