Alyssa Wren, left, and Kaitlyn Frawley, right. Photo by Keeley Smith.
Last year, Long Beach Poly’s Alyssa Wren and Kaitlyn Frawley positioned themselves, as instructed, in a classroom to help adults.
One customer happened to be supporting their family on $4,000 a year. The other hadn’t done their taxes in 10 years and had received numerous warnings in their mailbox from the IRS.
Wren and Frawley immediately set to work, helping the individuals with their taxes.
“It’s crazy just to see that there’s a lot of people that need a lot of help, and that’s kind of where our idea for the project came [from],” said Wren. “Also, just to give people more assistance when we can.”
This year, Wren and Frawley, both seniors, are running Poly’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, after their involvement last year. The program began at Poly four years ago, the brainchild of a student who was in AP Economics instructor Daniel Adler’s class. Adler continues to run the program with Poly students at the helm.
VITA chapters provide free tax services to people with annual incomes of up to $52,000. Most chapters are run by universities or organizations that provide social services—not high schools. Last year, Adler estimated the team processed about 400 income tax reports, generating over $700,000 in returns for low-wage residents of Long Beach.
This year, the team hopes to complete 800 to 1,000 reports for members of the community.
“It’s cool to see income coming in for people without much money,” said Frawley.
This year’s customers will be assisted by a brand-new computer lab in Adler’s classroom, which began officially helping this year’s customers on February 6. The students use Voltax Prep, the site provided by the federal VITA tax program.
Traditionally, the students said, if they advertise well, they start getting people in early. Those who visit in February and March are usually individuals who qualify for refunds. Those who visit in March and April usually owe money.
“Most people who file are significantly under $54,000,” said wren. “It’s usually the first time they’ve discovered such help.”
Wren detailed a bipolar woman seeking tax help for the first time, who inquired as to whether or not her chihuahua qualified as a dependent when filing her returns. Such examples served to validate the necessity of the program, which is free, in the eyes of the students and Adler.
Other tax prep companies, such as H&R Block, take a percentage of the tax returns generated for clients. The VITA chapter, in contrast, does the work for free. It seems to be a win-win for the community, as the students learn how to do taxes themselves…years before many people learn.
“I already know a lot more than my parents—they just have someone else do their taxes and they do nothing,” said Wren.
“Before we started, we didn’t know what a W-2 was, or a 1098-T. You have to start at the very beginning,” said Frawley. “[…]It kind of teaches you that it can be manageable.”