The IRS strikes fear and intimidation in most of us.
Imagine, then, the emotional toll that filing taxes can be for the elderly, persons with disabilities or those with limited English proficiency.
That’s the motivation for Yolanda Hollingsworth, a Regions Community Relations Officer for Middle and East Tennessee, who dedicates 25 to 35 hours each year during tax season to help people in underserved communities organize their tax information and file returns.
This work is done through the Woodbine Community Organization, a United Way agency in Nashville that provides opportunities for people of diverse incomes and backgrounds to access affordable housing, financial education, economic opportunities, and to fully participate in the civic life of their community.
One of their program offerings includes free tax preparation services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) grant program, an IRS initiative that supports tax preparation service for qualified taxpayers free of charge.
Free tax filing is a critically important service for Woodbine. While they help community members abide by tax laws and avoid penalties, Woodbine also saves clients more than $1.8 million in fees by avoiding a tax prep service. But filing is only one of the nonprofit’s goals. Woodbine also works to identify deductions that clients may not have known about, which can help save additional money and improve their financial standing.
Our program serves 3,000 clients from January through April each year, and we are completely reliant on volunteers. I can’t thank Regions and Yolanda enough for the assistance they provide.
Daryl Hill, Director of Counseling, Woodbine Community Organization
“Tax filing can be a really stressful situation for people,” Hollingsworth says. “But when our clients leave with their return successfully filed, it’s so heartwarming. They’re so grateful and they express their appreciation over and over again for helping them.”
VITA services are not only free, they are also a reliable and trusted source for preparing tax returns. All volunteers who prepare returns must take and pass tax law training that meets or exceeds IRS standards.
But that’s not the only service opportunity. Volunteers like Hollingsworth greet the clients at the door and help them make sure they have all their necessary documentation and help them complete pre-filing materials, ensuring the process goes as smoothly as possible.
“It’s an important step in the process, because the service is first-come first-serve, and sometimes we have a long wait time. By helping them ensure they have everything ready to file, the process is more efficient.” Hollingsworth said.
Daryl Hill, who serves as Director of Counseling at the Woodbine Community Organization, praises Hollingsworth and the other volunteers that assist with the VITA program.
I work with many local nonprofit organizations as part of my job at Regions, but this one is just special to me. For me, being a VITA volunteer at Woodbine is an easy way to give back to the community.
Yolanda Hollingsworth, Regions Community Relations Officer, Middle and East Tennessee
“Our program serves 3,000 clients from January through April each year, and we are completely reliant on volunteers,” he said. “I can’t thank Regions and Yolanda enough for the assistance they provide. Many people in our community don’t have $300 to pay a service to file their taxes, so it’s very important that they have a place to go to receive this free service.”
Because it’s a volunteer-managed program, Hill explained they set up shifts to accommodate work and personal schedules. “Whatever you can do, however you can do it, we appreciate all the help we can get,” he said. “All it takes is a giving heart.”
Yolanda Hollingworth definitely has a giving heart. The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated some additional effort from the volunteers recently while adding a layer of stress for the clients, but that didn’t impede Hollingsworth’s determination to continue supporting her community in this way—for the seventh year in a row.
“I work with many local nonprofit organizations as part of my job at Regions, but this one is just special to me,” Hollingsworth says. “For me, being a VITA volunteer at Woodbine is an easy way to give back to the community.”