Community Voice: Alexis Obinna - United Ways of California

Community Voice: Alexis Obinna

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Los Angeles, California

Read time: 4 minutes

Alexis Obinna is a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) client, VITA volunteer, and United Ways of California Ambassador. A former foster youth, Alexis is a fierce advocate for social and racial justice, housing, education, and foster youth rights. Here, Alexis shares more about advocating for foster youth and supporting her community through free tax help. 

When I was going for my bachelor’s in social work, we learned to be the client’s advocate. You have to serve all the needs of people—not just focusing on one area of need, but be there for all their general life needs. We took a lot of courses around financial literacy and talked about credit and taxes and how to support our clients’ financial independence. When I graduated, I wanted to be deeply involved in the community. I do a lot of that through work around taxes.

Volunteering with VITA really helps people.

As VITA volunteers, we’re certified just like paid tax preparers. Filers just give us all their expenses and documents, and it’s totally headache-free. We find all the credits they’re eligible for, like the Foster Youth Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, renter’s credit, and more. I do the tax returns, and then somebody else quality reviews them. It’s safe, and filers can trust us.

But we’re not just tax preparers; we are also here to advocate for our community. We teach people what W2s, W4s, 1099s are. We teach them how to write things off and help them make sure they’re doing it correctly. I explain why filers are getting the amount they are getting and the basics of what they need to do so that when they do their taxes each year they feel more empowered. We care about helping community members learn through the process and save money. People trust us and feel comfortable with us even more knowing that volunteers are people in the community. We really comfort people and put their minds at ease. 

That’s really why I do it—for the community.

I tell a lot of people about VITA. I have to repeat a lot that we do free tax services. It’s hard in this world for people to believe something is truly free and without a gimmick. Just showing that there are programs that are here and are free makes a difference.

I helped a 1099 worker (independent contractor), and they were not prepared for all the taxes they were going to have to pay. On top of that, they were going to have to pay somebody about $5,000 to prepare their tax returns. Instead, we could do it for free, and I could help them understand how to prepare for those taxes that would be due the next year so it wouldn’t be such a shock.

I really do try to support people in everything I do. I work as an independent contractor, with main focuses on housing, mentorship, foster youth, and education. I really try to bridge the gap on supportive services for young people. I do a lot of legislation and advocacy work at the local, state, and national level. I also do direct education and outreach to help young people access services. I have a strong focus on foster youth, but I also agree with the idea that if we highlight the most vulnerable populations, then it trickles down to everybody. 

Foster youth show up in a lot of spaces. They show up heavily in the unhoused population. They show up heavily in a lot of programs. Sometimes, they end up falling through the cracks because there’s nobody speaking up for them or advocating for programs for them. I always tell foster youth to apply for everything—grants, scholarships, tax credits. I tell them, “You’re not begging. You’re entitled to these programs. They are here for you, and you really need to utilize them or they go away.”

My tax work is just another way to help support foster youth. Taxes are an important life skill that people don’t teach us. We don’t learn it in school. So, I teach them. You want to live the best quality life, and tax credits and government programs really help.

United Ways of California and the California United Way Network connect eligible Californians to life-changing tax credits through free tax filing assistance programs. Fill out this quick form to tell California leaders to protect $20M in free tax prep outreach programs in your backyard.

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