Building on the momentum from the launch of the CSU5 VITA Collaboration in 2019, CSUN VITA led the efforts once again to help its sister campuses and local community colleges expand their reach and impact their local communities.
Thanks to a $345,000 grant from the State of California, CSUN VITA continued its second year of collaboration with four other Los Angeles County California State University campuses — known as the CSU5 — and six LA-based community colleges. The collaborating campuses were CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Los Angeles, CSU Pomona, CSU Long Beach, Los Angeles Mission College, Rio Hondo Community College, Santa Monica Community College, College of the Canyons, East Los Angeles Community College, and Mt. San Antonio College.
The CSU5 Plus VITA Collaboration expanded VITA’s service area from Long Beach in the south, Antelope Valley in the north, to Pomona in the east, Santa Monica in the west and all areas in between. The free services were available to those with household annual incomes of $55,000 or less.
Anna Hakopian, program coordinator for the CSUN VITA Clinic, also served as the CSU5 Plus VITA initiative coordinator. In that role, she managed the collaborative efforts of the 11-campus effort.
“Our biggest goal to accomplish is keeping the local community surrounding the 11-campuses informed about the tax process itself,” said Hakopian. “We are making collaborative work to expose the public to as many tax topics as we can while also providing students with a learning experience in the feld of taxation.”
Powered with over 940 student volunteers across the 11-campus initiative, the partners in this collaborative operated over 30 sites and furnished free tax preparation to over 8,700 low-income taxpayers this year. After serving thousands of individuals face-to-face in its frst few months, due to COVID-19, operations were shut down in mid-March, halting tax preparation activities at all CSU5 Plus VITA partners.
“We had to cancel nearly a thousand disappointed clients,” said Hakopian. “Our clients have to travel far sometimes to get our services and knowing how much they trust us with this responsibility, it all hurt us when this happened.”
In response, several of the campuses, including CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Pomona and CSUN VITA clinics quickly moved to an all virtual domain. This alternative medium for facilitating tax return preparation required extensive vetting for security prior to launch and was initially piloted with a few trained volunteers and taxpayers. While some taxpayers faced challenges accessing the technology required for obtaining the virtual tax preparation services, overall the feedback from the volunteers and the taxpayers has been encouragingly positive. While all campuses that are part of this initiative hope to be able to offer face-to-face tax preparation services starting in 2021, all are developing alternative plans at this time to offer the services virtually, if necessary.