Though many VITA sites are located directly on a CSU campus and its vicinity, the North Hollywood Public Library VITA Clinic’s unique location provides a beacon to low-income residents of North Hollywood with free tax services. That service was made possible this year with the generous support from City National Bank.
Hailing from California State University, Northridge, a team of trained and certifed tax preparers comprised of student volunteers, ran a Saturday operations at the library site. This included: setting up tax screenings, Individual Taxpayer Identifcation Number applications, fnancial coaching and overall support with IRS-related questions or concerns.
Cynthia Montez, an undergraduate accounting student and site coordinator for the library’s clinic, wanted to create a professional and effcient atmosphere so clients could fle their taxes with as little stress as possible. “Our goal here was to provide help to taxpayers who otherwise couldn’t afford it,” said Montez. “We depend on our student body to help run our program and meet our goals.”
Run almost entirely by student volunteers, the VITA site is giving real-world experience to young professionals by placing them in circumstances that would most refect an actual job in tax preparation. Montez holds her volunteers to a high standard as tax preparation, and specifcally low-income tax preparation, is a very serious and delicate matter.
These returns can affect the very livelihood of their clients and families.
“I teach our volunteers to serve our clients with a deep sense of professionalism and effciency,” said Montez. “We are an important resource to the community and so I want my student volunteers to understand the responsibility of each return they prepare.”
Before students are allowed to prepare a client’s return, they must pass a series of IRS certifcations that test their tax knowledge and aptitude toward the material. This ensures that clients’ returns are prepared correctly and thoughtfully, and also ensures that students are taught career-level knowledge in the tax feld.
The North Hollywood Public Library VITA Clinic was on track to set a record fling this year; however, as the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus unfolded, the site unfortunately had to halt all operations in mid-March.
By using the HIPPA ZOOM, a virtual interface that helps protect individuals’ privacy, the clinic resumed operations in early May through a virtual setting and started to recover ground that was lost during the ongoing pandemic.
Confdent in the clinic’s potential and strengthened by her volunteers’ resolve, Montez plans for next tax season. She hopes that the CSUN VITA Clinic can provide a physical and virtual setting to increase the potential to reach more individuals in the local community.
“We provide an important resource to the community,” said Montez. “With the continued support of City National Bank, I believe that we will continue to grow and be able to fle an even greater number of returns in the area.”