Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Students' Community Service Learning Work is So Valuable

by Ann Abbott

Do your Spanish community service learning (CSL) students know how important their work in the community is? Do they know what the consequences can be for Spanish-speakers if the partner organization can't meet its mission?

As I've said before, some CSL students don't see the value of doing office work, especially if it is repetitive--which, of course, most office work is. It is up to us to show them its value to the organization, to their learning and to their future job search.

During the spring semesters, my CSL students who work at the Refugee Center always help a lot of clients fill out the paperwork for their taxes. The Refugee Center charges a nominal fee for this service, but I'm pretty sure that students don't know the full value of what the clients receive with this service. I didn't until Deb Hlavna, Co-Director, told me this story:

Some Chicago-based commercial tax preparation services advertise heavily among the immigrant communities. In the specific case that Deb recounted, she told about how some local Vietnamese refugees/immigrants have driven up to Chicago, used those services, and were only charged a percentage of the rebate that the tax preparer found for them.

What's the problem? The tax preparer files for rebates and refunds that they were never entitled to in the first place. So when the IRS contacts the refugee/immigrant, they tell them that they owe more money in taxes that they paid. And what about the money they paid to the preparer? Well, they already took their cut, and they're not responsible anyway.

She told about one specific scam she learned about when the client came to the Refugee Center for help. The commercial tax preparer had filed for the "Hope Tax Credit" (for post-secondary education costs) when the client's daughter was only eight years old! The client was out the money s/he paid the tax preparer and then had to pay even more money to the IRS.

So, students, I hope you can see that the work of our community partners and the work that you do with them is truly valuable even in ways that might not be apparent at first glance.

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