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Accounting Aid Society

Detroit

Hero Story

In March of 2020, Accounting Aid Society, the largest volunteer-driven tax preparation service in Southeast Michigan, shut down their 38 in-person and drop-off tax sites in accordance with Michigan’s stay-at-home order. Halting this service left thousands of low-to-moderate-income taxpayers without access to qualified, no-cost, accurate tax preparation at a time when many were facing job losses, increased caregiving responsibilities, and other economic stressors on top of the mental and physical impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The crisis required an immediate, innovative, and complete retooling of our volunteer-driven service delivery for both individual and small business taxpayers, as well as for clients participating in our Low Income Tax Clinic. The answer to this challenge was VITA ACE – an alternative tax preparation delivery model that launched in just 3 short weeks after the shut-down. VITA ACE (accessible, convenient, and electronic) is a completely electronic tax preparation environment – a secure and reliable way for Accounting Aid to prepare federal, state, and city tax returns without face-to-face contact and at no taxpayer cost. While the new delivery model was the result of many partners, funders, staff members and others, VITA ACE would not be possible without the true heroes of the service – our volunteers, the lifeblood of our organization.

Like our pre-COVID, in-person tax preparation services, VITA ACE was and continues to be completely and entirely run by a team of remote volunteers who dedicate their time, talents and passion to putting millions of dollars into the pockets of those who need it most. Since its inception, Accounting Aid Society’s VITA ACE remote volunteer team has returned more than $50 million in tax credits, refunds, and stimulus payments to our community members!

However, our VITA ACE remote volunteers continue to do more than facilitate a one-time cash infusion. A tax return tells a story of someone’s year- about their job, family, or education, so volunteers aren’t just entering numbers on a form. They’re using taxes to build relationships – by learning about clients, sharing stories, and having meaningful conversations – and using relationships to build brighter futures, by equipping them with what they need to take control of their finances. The trust our volunteers build with clients can’t be measured by dollars and cents.

Another notable and admirable aspect of our remote volunteers during such unusual times has been their adaptability and willingness to put their own needs aside and jump right into an entirely new process, with no questions asked. Each year (pre-COVID) our volunteers receive training and become IRS-certified in order to prepare taxes. During the actual preparation, which takes place at an Accounting Aid tax site, they are among other volunteers and staff members. However, this year, for the safety of all of those involved, our volunteers had to adapt to an entirely new process and procedure – but they were eager to learn, ask questions, support one another, and even provide feedback for the new process. They selflessly and eagerly dealt with VITA ACE hiccups along the way, frustrated clients, technology problems and constant changes – even while most of them still had full-time jobs and were dealing with the pandemic in their own ways.

We are tremendously grateful to these volunteers who met our existing high standards of confidentiality, quality and trust in a new and dynamic environment.

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