by Asset Building Coach Marcail Distante
As a Project Manager at Chinatown Community Development Center (Chinatown CDC), Jimmy Ng works closely with the process behind the scenes of affordable-housing units in San Francisco. Jimmy had always heard of MEDA: The pair of organizations collaborate on developing and providing housing for low-income families in San Francisco.
One of the most notable projects was the Casa Adelante – 1296 Shotwell development — a brand-new, 94-unit building in the Mission that will house low-income seniors and offer monthly rent as low as $266.
With CCDC and MEDA working to develop their first project together, Jimmy happened upon the VITA free tax preparation program and immediately wanted to learn more. With not only a career interest in empowering seniors in the community, Jimmy had a strong personal drive to give taxes a try. “I’ve been thinking about taxes often this year because my mom is retiring soon and I want to be able to help her out. I’m familiar with financial management for people my age, but I wanted more experience learning about managing finances on a fixed income for families and seniors,” explains Jimmy of what enticed him to take the plunge and become a tax volunteer at MEDA in the Mission.
Jimmy completed his virtual tax training, communicated with a volunteer coordinator, and showed up ready to learn and engage. At first he was slightly apprehensive about the experience. Jimmy says, “I felt like I still needed to learn how to communicate about things like W-2s, withholdings and health insurance.”
He also wondered if not speaking Spanish might be a barrier to helping clients.
Well, he soon became familiar with the process in place for volunteers, and learned about available resources.
“At first, tax season seemed so fast paced and overwhelming, but when I arrived, I was able to shadow, ask questions and was encouraged to get involved at my own pace,” states Jimmy of his volunteer onboarding.
After shadowing until he was ready to prepare taxes, the tax process became second nature to Jimmy. He showed up, checked in with the volunteer coordinator, found an available computer and went out to the waiting area to ascertain if any clients were ready to have their taxes prepared. Once he sat down with them, he asked to see their IDs and tax documents, such as W-2s. From there, he input the tax information into the software, reviewed clients’ completed taxes and got ready for the next client.
Though the process became simple, there were still times when Jimmy was not sure how to answer a question or needed support. He explains, “I feel it’s a very comfortable learning environment because there’s a strong team culture where if something is too complicated you ask a seasoned volunteer, and everyone is always willing to help out, jump in and provide any feedback.”
In the times where he worked with clients who needed translation, he easily flagged down a staff member or Spanish-speaking volunteer to help out.
Jimmy was quickly learning about the ins and outs of taxes, such as what number clients should put on a W-4 to maximize refunds at the end of the year, or the difference between gross and net income on a W-2.
Jimmy was hooked — and he excelled as a tax-preparer. So good, in fact, that through his free tax preparation he got $150,000 refunded to the low-income community.
Keeping his mom’s situation in mind, he took particular interest in learning about the ways retired folks did their taxes. What documents were they using, and how was this different than when they were employed?
Volunteering anywhere from five to six days a week, Jimmy learned more and more with each new client he served. He was also grateful that, on top of having a job, he was able to volunteer at MEDA because of the flexible tax shift schedule offered. He could come volunteer after work for a few hours, always taking a break for the pupusas from a local Salvadoran restaurant that MEDA ordered for volunteers for dinner.
Not only was he learning about valuable tax information, but he used his tax preparation experience as an opportunity to improve his customer service skills as well. “I’ve really just found that clients appreciate the face-to-face interaction when preparing questions and answering their questions. I love that I now know how to walk clients through their tax returns, explain why they’re getting a refund, or not,” says Jimmy.
When he mastered basic tax preparation, Jimmy even took it a step further and got certified to prepare advanced taxes. What this largely meant was that he could start helping people who were contracted or self-employed, with 1099-MISC forms from companies such as Uber, DoorDash and Lyft.
In thinking about words of advice he might give prospective tax volunteers, Jimmy offers, “It all comes back to staff and volunteers being really open-minded and eager to share and grow. It’s a really great team environment in which to learn. You often hear about taxes, but there’s nothing like getting involved in the real thing!”
Jimmy became a regular at the MEDA office, and was always willing to help out and dive in to a new experience. We can’t wait to see him continue to grow, and learn about how to best support his mom in retirement while he gives back to the community.
Would you like to join MEDA’s tax volunteers to learn more about what taxes entail and advance any personal goals?
Please contact Asset Building Coach Marcail Distante: (415) 282-3334 ext. 132; firstname.lastname@example.org.