U of T commerce students help homeless youth file taxes
There's no escaping tax season – even if you're unemployed, says Meaghan Smith, financial literacy coordinator at Eva’s Initiatives, a three-site shelter for homeless and at-risk youth in Toronto.
“Everyone should file their tax returns, even if they didn’t work at all because they may still qualify for a HST tax credit or the Ontario Trillium Benefit,” says Smith, an alumna of the University of Toronto’s OISE Adult Education and Community Development program.
But dreading – even ignoring – tax time is not uncommon. Enter U of T's commerce students. When Smith heard 30 undergrads had volunteered to help members of the community do their income taxes through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) she suggested they hold a free tax clinic for the 50 residents at Eva’s Phoenix, a transition home for homeless youth aged 16 to 24. Lisa Lewkowicz, assistant director of student life at Rotman Commerce, was happy to oblige.
“The Student Life portfolio of Rotman Commerce looks to provide opportunities for students to take the concepts that they learn in their classrooms and apply them in practical and useful settings, like giving back to the Toronto community,” says Lewkowicz. “We have been offering students a volunteer opportunity to do income taxes for participants who access various community programs and services through our partners at the West Neighbourhood House and the Agincourt and Jane and Finch neighbourhoods.”
This is the second year Rotman Commerce has participated in the CVITP. Cindy Qin, in her third year of public accounting at Rotman Commerce, said this was her first time volunteering but she plans to return next year.
“I think this is a good opportunity for us to give back to the community, while putting the knowledge we learned in class into practice and increasing our professional skills,” she says. “At university you spend all your time with your professors and peers.They are very nice, but in the community you will meet different kinds of people.”
The students had support from University of Toronto Mississauga lecturer Abraham Iqbal. Iqbal teaches income taxation to undergraduate and graduate students in the department of management at UTM, but on this day his role was that of a volunteer, overseeing the students helping Eva’s residents file their own tax returns online.
“In a classroom, obviously, we’re teaching theory,” says Iqbal. “I hope the students can get some real-life experience out of this. Now they’re dealing with individuals who are sitting across from them who need help to prepare their income taxes, so I hope the students can take the theory that they learn in the class and apply it to a real-life situation.”
Stefanie Chapman is just finishing her third year of accounting at U of T. Last semester she took an income tax course with Iqbal and really enjoyed it. He recommended volunteering for CVITP to anyone interested in learning more about Canadian taxation and she’s happy she did.
“I've really enjoyed my time volunteering both at Eva's Phoenix and with my community organization. It's nice to be able to apply something that I learned in school to help people in my community,” says Chapman. “It's also a great way to see another side of Toronto that I wouldn't normally see and meet lots of different people.”
Craig* was among the youth residents at Eva’s who turned out bright and early to file his taxes. Looking for employment, he also wanted to learn how to do his taxes and pay off his debts. He said he's also brushing up on his math skills, hoping to get into college.
“I like science and history,” he says, “so I’d like to be a history teacher or work in a museum one day.”
*Real name withheld for privacy reasons.
Jelena Damjanovic writes about community building for U of T News.