Community Action’s tax prep program rewarding for volunteers


For the Recorder

Published: 04-07-2023 8:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Dane Kuttler, one of about 30 people volunteering for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program run by Community Action Pioneer Valley, thinks doing taxes is fun. More than that, she loves helping low-income taxpayers in the community prepare their tax returns.

“When you volunteer with VITA, you get to look at somebody who makes really not very much money per year and say, ‘How would you like to go home with $5,000?” said Kuttler. “It’s life-changing money.”

VITA is an IRS-sponsored program that provides free tax preparation to people meeting minimum requirements for annual income, residency and taxes. The program has existed for 50 years nationwide, and 17 years at Community Action.

Each year between February and April, IRS-certified volunteers at Community Action help around 400 people file their tax returns at no cost.

“I always think that VITA is a hidden gem in a lot of ways because people don’t realize it exists,” said Rebecca Bannasch, Money Matters coordinator at Community Action. “People are really stressed about filing taxes. … It’s not a system that is designed so that people know what they’re supposed to do.”

Bannasch said many taxpayers who sign up for the program are worried about the consequences of making a mistake while doing their taxes, and that the program eliminates much of the stress that comes with tax filing.

“We’re able to really help them get all of the money that they’re supposed to get, but also have that whole tax filing process be something that is more welcoming and friendly,” said Bannasch, adding that because the program exists within a larger agency, volunteers can also direct people to other help available through Community Action.

Easthampton resident Nicole Lepage-Rogalski brought her 18-year-old daughter to a recent VITA clinic in Northampton.

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“It was good, simple, easy. They’re very nice. … It’s her first time doing taxes,” Lepage-Rogalski said gesturing to her daughter. “She’ll be 19, so it’s her first time doing it on her own … and they were very helpful.”

Volunteers receive 18 hours of training in December or January and typically attend one tax clinic per week, where they meet one-on-one with taxpayers for hour-long sessions.

“People don’t like taxes, which makes sense, but I weirdly like filing taxes and filling in all the spaces,” said Elana Sadok, a University of Massachusetts Amherst student who volunteers with VITA. “It’s really a rewarding experience to be able to help taxpayers from start to finish … and then watch them walk out with hopefully more money in their pocket.”

VITA runs until the end of tax season in mid-April. Appointments are full for the rest of this tax season, aside from Thursday, April 13, in Northampton. To schedule an appointment, visit