by Asset Building Coach Marcail Distante
Nicte-Ha Chacon was born and raised in Marin County, so has always been a Bay Area girl at heart. Growing up she has fond memories of day trips to San Francisco, going out to eat with her family, visiting the Embarcadero and checking out art on street corners.
Most notable was her connection to the predominantly Latino Mission District, as her family emigrated from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Growing up, Nicte-Ha even danced in the Children Folklorico group, attended Maya language classes at Asociación Mayab and participated in cultural events, such as Carnaval, with her Mayan community in the Mission.
“I’ve always loved the Mission District because there are a lot of Latino people and restaurants. It’s easy to communicate, and it always made me comfortable to know that people have the same experiences as me and share my culture,” explains Nicte-Ha of the Mission community, where neighbors chat on street corners, and local stores become a daily stop on the way home. Living at least two hours away from this special community, however, she wished she could feel a part of it more often as she moved into adulthood.
She moved to Oakland to start as a freshman at Laney College. She had her eyes set on international business, the budding entrepreneur having a long-term goal of opening her own venture that works with people of diverse backgrounds.
Nicte-Ha began learning about trade, assets and taxes, and although she knew she was getting a baseline understanding of the material, she sought out an opportunity to learn all the more. She knew that as a college freshman it was critical to boost her resume now with real-life experience so that she would stand out as a job candidate after graduation.
Nicte-Ha first found out about MEDA because her aunt, Financial Capability Coach Rosario Chacon, had recently started to work at the nonprofit. During tax season, Nicte-Ha listened to her aunt talk about the VITA free tax preparation program, and realized that as a volunteer she could help both the tax team and clients, while gaining invaluable customer-service experience that she could add to her resume.
Still keeping school her number one priority, Nicte-Ha turned the page to a new chapter by preparing to become a VITA certified tax greeter in the Mission district during the two days of the week she did not have class.
In the beginning, Nicte-Ha shadowed volunteer greeters to see what role they played in the tax-preparation process. “Being a greeter means that you welcome the client, review their documents, put the documents in the right order and mark their intakes for the tax-preparer,” she explains of the process.
On her first day as a tax greeter, she felt a bit nervous because she still felt like she had much to learn about taxes — plus she would be working with many different types of people. That sure changed: Soon enough she learned how to ask the right questions, get help from experienced greeters when she needed it and felt like an important member of the VITA team.
“People are sometimes nervous because it might be their first time doing taxes, or they ask why we need certain information. I soon realized it was important to have a personal connection with clients by asking about their day, or their dog, so that people feel comfortable while they’re waiting, reflects Nicte-Ha. “As a greeter you’re the first person seen at MEDA, so you need to make sure clients feel comfortable so that they come back in the future.”
As with any customer-service experience, at times Nicte-Ha faced situations where clients were frustrated because they failed to bring the right documentation, or had very specific questions that she was uncertain how to answer.
To help clients in these situations, Reflects Nicte-Ha, she developed a strong skill set in displaying empathy and connection so that the clients understood that they were going to be helped and that somebody sincerely cared about them and their case. When she felt like she needed extra support, she flagged down a more experienced greeter or tax preparer to help the client learn about what their next steps should be.
Although it is not mandatory that tax greeters speak Spanish, Nicte-Ha’s bilingualism translated to Spanish-speakers trusting her even more because they knew they could freely express themselves to her.
After a few weeks as a greeter, she became confident in her ability to ask the right questions and ensuring clients felt at ease, all the while building her resume and building sincere connections.
Soon enough, being a volunteer tax greeter in San Francisco after school became a social interaction for her. She became friends with the other greeters, with whom she remains in touch, plus has great memories of the laughs and experiences they shared with each other and the rest of the tax team.
With the rhythm of being a tax greeter down, she even became a basic tax preparer toward the end of the season to learn what it was like to actually sit down with clients and prepare their taxes.
Months after the end of tax season, one interaction still stands out for Nicte-Ha: “I was talking to a client who works at a local eatery, which is a restaurant I absolutely love. He told me that there was this new pastry that came out, and that I should definitely go try it! It was just really cool because you get to connect with people that you normally don’t get an opportunity to, and that’s what I loved about being a greeter. It’s an experience I won’t forget.”
While she’s been able to add customer service and basic tax preparation to her resume, she Nicte-Ha hasn’t been to that favorite eatery to try the new pastry, but at MEDA we’re eagerly awaiting her review.
Would you like to join MEDA’s tax volunteers to boost your resume and build sincere connections?
Please contact Asset Building Coach Marcail Distante: (415) 282-3334 ext. 132; firstname.lastname@example.org.