When fourth-year Wei Lin learned about Madison House at the annual Student Activities Fair during his first year at UVA, he was already familiar with the concept of volunteer income tax assistance (VITA). Growing up in a family that emigrated from China, Wei often accompanied his mother to their local library for help filing their family’s taxes.
“My mother could barely speak English and I can’t imagine how difficult it might have been [for a VITA volunteer] to work both as a tax filer and impromptu translator,” Wei says.
He remembers the patience and diligence of the VITA volunteer working through his family’s documents, and his mother’s “tears of happiness” when the preparer handed her a ready-to-mail return. Wei says the return they received helped Wei’s family pay bills like rent and kept food on the table.
"I never understood the magnitude of what was happening then, but I do now. "
“I never understood the magnitude of what was happening then, but I do now,” says Wei.
Now in his second year serving as Head Program Director of Madison House’s Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope (CASH) program, Wei leads a team of over 110 VITA volunteers who serve low-income families with the help of several local partner organizations, including the United Way Jefferson Area Coalition, and the UVA Law School VITA Program.
“I wish every day I could pay back those same volunteers who helped my family during our trying first years in the United States,” Wei says. “But in lieu of being able to do so, I chose to pay it forward instead.”
"I wish every day I could pay back those volunteers who helped my family during our first years in the U.S. I chose to pay it forward instead."
Image: UVA School of Law
Every year, CASH files approximately 4,500 tax returns in partnership with United Way — which resulted in a direct economic impact of nearly $4 million returned to the Charlottesville community for the 2016 fiscal year, and a cumulative economic impact of $29 million returned to local residents over the course of CASH’s history.
Now in its tenth year, Wei wants to push the boundaries of what the program can accomplish and grow CASH so it serves even more of the community. He says it’s about more than just making sure CASH’s services run every year.
Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope
Image: CASH Head Program Director and Program Directors
Fiscal year 2016 results, in partnership with United Way:
4,522 state, federal returns filed = $3.9 million direct economic impact
Cumulative economic impact since CASH began in 2008:
Tax return accuracy rate for CASH volunteers:
99.1%, compared to national VITA average of 94.6%
United Way—Thomas Jefferson Area, UVA Law School, UVA Human Resources, UVA Medical Center, IRS Stakeholder Partnerships, Education & Communication Division, Chipotle at Barracks Road
Residents served from the following Virginia counties:
Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Orange, Waynesboro, Greene, Nelson, Buckingham, Madison, Augusta, Rockingham
"It's about creating self-sufficiency — ensuring that people not only have their taxes done, but understand how it's done so that next year, they might be able to do it themselves."
“It’s about creating self-sufficiency — ensuring that people not only have their taxes done, but understand how it’s done so that the next year, they might be able to do it themselves,” Wei says.
Getting to know CASH’s clients and his volunteer team is what Wei finds most rewarding about serving as Head Program Director. In just one 3-hour tax assistance session, Wei says volunteers will find “the most diverse set of people who might never interact in any other setting,” and can learn about “what it means to be a resident of Charlottesville.”
"The community has as much to give to us as we have to give them... It's about inspiring as many people as possible."
“The community has as much to give to us as we have to give to them,” says Wei. He hopes that people think of Madison House as more than just a volunteer hub, but “a central spot where UVA can connect with the community that surrounds it.”
“It’s about inspiring as many people in the community as possible — the same way that tax preparer that helped my mom inspired me,” he says.