By SueAnn Rybak for FunTimes Magazine
Campaign for Working Families (CWF), a Philadelphia nonprofit that works to provide working families with access to finances through asset development, free tax preparation and resource development, honored volunteers and seasonal employees at its annual end-of-the-year celebration held at South Bowl, 19 E. Oregon Ave., earlier this month.
Melissa Jackson-Schmidt, the chief program officer at CWF, said the nonprofit has 24 sites in Philadelphia and New Jersey. However, it only has 13 full-time employees. This year the nonprofit trained 415 volunteers and 130 seasonal employees. She said without their dedication and hard work they could not provide free tax preparation to low-income and middle-income individuals.
Jackson-Schmidt said Dr. Nikia Owens, the president and CEO of CWF, wanted to recognize longtime volunteers and seasonal employees with a special token of appreciation and gratitude by giving them a glass award plaque. The nonprofit distributed 55 awards to volunteers and seasonal employees that have worked with them for 10 years and longer.
“Many of these people were not paid,” she said. “They gave of themselves to make sure that people who couldn’t afford to get their taxes prepared got them done for free. We are so grateful for their continued support and commitment to help people in their community.”
Seasonal Workers and Volunteers share their stories.
Rev. Phyllis Harris with trophy.
Rev. Phyllis Harris, a site manager at Mt. Pisgah AME Church in Philadelphia, has worked with CWF for more than 20 years.
She recalled the former pastor Rev. Harvey Sparkman asking her to go to a meeting about taxes.
“I didn’t know anything about taxes then,” she said. “I began as an intake specialist. I remember we had one computer in the church. It has been a challenge. I still remember when we used paper forms, a pencil and an eraser to do taxes. We laugh about it now.”
She said many people have been coming to Mt. Pisgah for over 10 years to get their taxes prepared.
“Most of the people who come to us are retired seniors,” said Harris, 77. “They appreciate us. I have seen a few people cry. They tell us their stories and how they have paid $250 or more to get their taxes prepared.
“It has been a great learning experience and journey working with Campaign for Working Families. They are very structured. They are a very community-minded organization. They have made changes over the years to be even more relative to the local community. That has been a blessing to me as well. I am grateful to Campaign for Working Families for helping me to be a better citizen by helping other citizens get what they need.”
Lena Small, with trophy.
Lena Small, a site manager at CareerLink in Northwest Philadelphia, was also honored for working with CWF for over 20 years.
She became involved through CWF’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program when she was working at Transitional Work Corporation.
Small, who has a MBA, said some people may be hesitant to use CWF’s services because they may think “we don’t know what we are doing.”
However, she said all CWF’s volunteers are certified through the IRS.
“We file your taxes exactly as instructed,” said Small, who has worked at sites around the city. “Campaign for Working Families will set it up so your refund can be deposited into your bank account.”
Small, who also trains people to do taxes, worked for Jackson Hewett Tax Preparation Services in 2008 for one tax season.
“I realized then how much people were being overcharged for their taxes,” she said. “Sometimes their refund would be less than the price they were being charged to file their taxes. Then I would recommend that they go to CWF to get their taxes done for free. I only did that for one tax season because it just didn’t feel right.”
Small, 65, said she has several clients who will travel to a site further away from them because they trust her or that site.
“I have customers from Center City who still come to see me,” she said. “Many of them refuse to let anybody touch their paperwork but me. I tell them everybody at the site was trained by me. I don’t do anything special, but they know me. It’s a good feeling to know that people trust me with their money.”
To learn more about Campaign for Working Families, go to https://www.cwfphilly.org/.