EBALDC is a nationally-recognized community developer that creates long-term and sustainable community well-being in neighborhoods of Oakland and the East Bay Area of California.
East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation
310 Eighth Street, Suite 200
Oakland, CA 94607
Check out East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation opportunities at VolunteerMatch.
Diny Huang is sitting with tax documents in front of her and one of her many different clients to her right. Maybe it's a math teacher who hasn't filed taxes for the last two years, or a student who is filing for the first time because of a summer internship. Perhaps it's a single mother with two kids to support, or a retired grandmother who comes back to do her taxes here year after year.
This one room is filled with voices, with stories of families and their financial setbacks and triumphs. Words spoken steadily in English are mingled with rapid-fire Chinese, because they are located in the heart of Chinatown in Oakland.
Welcome to a typical day at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), which provides free quality tax preparation for low-income Bay Area clients.
Diny serves as EBALDC's Volunteer Coordinator for two programs, Money Savvy Youth and VITA. So far this year, these programs have taught financial education to over 700 students in 15 schools, and completed tax returns for 1200 families, bringing them $1.7 million in refunds.
"Of course, this wouldn't be possible without the support of over 125 volunteers, who have contributed well over 2,000 hours of service," Diny says.
Diny herself is technically a volunteer – as a LISC AmeriCorps member, she has a living stipend and serves over 1700 hours for a one year term. "LISC" is a special branch of AmeriCorps that provides support specifically to community development corporations.
Diny joined AmeriCorps after graduating from UC Berkeley last year, because, as she says, "I wanted to be engaged in public service."
At one point, Diny was at work every weekend hosting five-hour trainings for volunteers so they could become IRS-certified VITA tax preparers. VolunteerMatch has been useful for recruiting these volunteers, which tend to come from all walks of life, from college students to professors, mothers, young adult professionals, and retired seniors.
The volunteers come together because they see the need: low income families need an alternative to costly paid tax preparers and refund anticipatory loans. But that doesn’t mean they're confident in their abilities.
Diny remembers their shyness: "Are you sure I can help prepare taxes? I mean, I'm not even an accounting major," they say. They are mentored by an experienced VITA volunteer their first time at the tax site, and by the fourth time they volunteer, they become a pro, oftentimes inviting their friends to volunteer as well.
Each year, EBALDC holds its annual Volunteer Appreciation Event to recognize their volunteers. One of the clients they helped were their caterers that day, while another client surprised the volunteers with fantastic cakes from her bakery.
"It was an amazing way for us to share in a tangible way the impact our volunteers had made," Diny says. "It also gave me time to reflect on an amazing experience here at EBALDC. And as I think back to our clients, it makes me realize that giving back to them taught me so much about myself that I didn't know."
"I love seeing smiles light up on the families I help," she says, "and knowing I have the opportunity to make a tangible and direct impact is what makes me wake up eager to go to EBALDC every morning."
As much as she'd like to think she's helped people, it's clear to Diny that this experience has helped her so much more. Despite statistics such as the fact that she has directly assisted over 60 families to receive over $85,000 in refunds, volunteering is not about the statistical impact for her.
Instead, it's the qualitative difference she makes, and the growth it has created in her, that Diny focuses on.
At VITA, Chinese words and English combine to form a "Chinglish" song of tax phrases. Diny could speak conversational Mandarin prior to volunteering, but since several of their tax clients are immigrants who do not speak a word of English, she has had to adapt and learn phrases that she never knew before (impressing her friends and family), such as "liánbāng" for "federal government."
There are special moments that help Diny see how her clients have helped her just as much as she's helped them.
For example: she was in a Chinese restaurant for a friend's birthday celebration when the waiter recognized her and said, "Hey! Aren't you the person who helped me do taxes? I remember you kept asking me how to say "independent" in Chinese. Do you still remember?" Without thinking, Diny replied, "Dúlì."
Besides improving her Chinese, VITA has also helped Diny understand individual income tax returns, so she was able to confidently prepare her own and assist her brother and best friend in filing their taxes for the first time. And lastly, VITA has given Diny new friends, in the form of her volunteers.
Tax season is over now, but the memories live in Diny's head, along with promises of future experiences for next year.
Images of volunteers nervously attending training for the first time blend seamlessly with images of them calming the single mothers, retired grandmothers and other clients who come in with a welcoming smile. Diny can picture them posing for photos, confidently looking at tax documents and singing and dancing to the YMCA song.
"We were strangers before," Diny says, "but this year, EBALDC staff and volunteers have become a family."