VITA and Square One
Working together to lift families out of poverty

Square One Project Stephanie McLemore Bray

We’re in the midst of tax season and working hard to ensure that low-income, working families file their taxes for free through our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).

VITA dates back to 1971 when Gary Iskowitz, a professor at California State University Northridge, organized college students to volunteer to prepare tax returns for free. What started out as a valuable community service and hands-on learning opportunity for students has become one of the most efficient and effective ways that low-income, working families achieve financial stability. 

In our region, VITA was launched ten years ago and is led by a coalition of nonprofit organizations that our United Way brings together. Each year, we recruit as many as 200 volunteers who give their time from January to April at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations, including public housing sites, to help eligible families file their taxes for free. Our volunteers receive 12 hours of training, in addition to the many hours they give preparing taxes at VITA sites during the season.  

VITA volunteers inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (state and federal), Child Tax Credit, and the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. Not only does the VITA program save families an average of $200-300 in tax preparation fees, but it also enables people to claim billions of dollars annually, boosting the state’s economy. At the same time, families are encouraged to save a portion of their refund for a rainy day and receive valuable coaching on how to achieve their financial goals. And thanks to our diverse corps of volunteers, we are able to offer VITA services in Spanish-speaking and Russian communities. 

The work of the Capital Region VITA Coalition would not be possible without support from generous funders including the IRS, the Franchise Tax Board, the State of California Department of Community Services and Development, SAFE Credit Union, SMUD and Wells Fargo. This year, we also received a very generous donation from JPMorgan Chase of 50 Samsung tablets that we use to train volunteers, and to file returns on, another way that eligible filers can prepare their taxes for free if their household made less than $64,000 in 2016. 

We are inspired by the work of our volunteers and our coalition to help lift families out of poverty, the goal of our Square One Project. That’s why this year we hosted VITA sites at schools in the Robla School District.

Ending poverty really does start at school!

Learn more about VITA, and how you can file your taxes for free