Taxation Without Trepidation

Posted by Rachel Vogel-Quinn on Nov 1, 2016 9:02:16 AM


Seven years ago, Amina Nuhanović was laid off from her job as a CPA. She didn’t sulk. Her experience coming to Iowa as a Bosnian refugee at the age of 13 had taught her to be strong in the face of adversity, to keep going no matter what.

“I am not a person to stay at home,” Amina says with a laugh. “I really wanted to do something in the meantime while looking for a job.”

The solution came from The Des Moines Register, where she saw a story about United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides free tax assistance to low- and middle-income families who need help. In 2016, VITA volunteers prepared 5,666 tax returns, bringing over $8 million back to working families and the central Iowa economy. 

“You get to interact with other volunteers who are working in all kinds of fields. And you also get to meet all kinds of clients who you can relate to in one way or another and who you can learn from.”

--Amina Nuhanović

Learn More About Volunteering for VITA

As soon as she read about VITA, Amina knew it was right up her alley, given her finance background and her love of volunteering. She begged to sign up as a tax preparer, even though orientation was long past. Amina has been volunteering with VITA ever since, the past three years as a site leader.

“Amina is a go-getter,” says Sarah Witt, volunteer manager with VITA. “She just goes, goes, goes from 6 a.m. to midnight.”

Amina is now Controller/CFO at the EcoEngineers in Des Moines, but she still spends every Monday evening from January through mid-April at the VITA site located in the United Way building. (United Way operates six VITA locations throughout central Iowa.)

Amina opens the site, does quality review of the tax preparers’ work, answers questions, and trains new volunteers. She loves seeing new people join, especially finance and business students who get practical experience in the field, but she comes back every year to see her regular friends who volunteer every Monday night.

VITA pic.jpg“You get to interact with other volunteers who are working in all kinds of fields,” she says. “And you also get to meet all kinds of clients who you can relate to in one way or another and who you can learn from.”

Amina gets incredible satisfaction from working with the clients—many of whom remind her of herself in earlier days—from refugees and immigrants learning the language to young people just starting out in the world.

“We do a lot of education while we are doing people’s taxes,” she says. “We explain what we are doing, what the terms mean, and what they can do next year.”

Amina speaks English, Bosnian, and a little Spanish, and she loves to bust out her language skills with clients. Some even ask for her by name year after year. She emphasizes that everyone who comes to VITA is eligible by government regulation to use the service. It’s something that many people rely on, especially those who have never done their taxes before, work multiple jobs, don’t speak English, or need a refund to make ends meet.

Amina remembers one family who came to her VITA site a few years ago. Their three kids came with them, and everything was a bit chaotic and unorganized. Amina struggled to contain her frustration and be patient, and she succeeded. By the end of the session, she had helped the family receive a large refund—one they obviously needed. The whole family started crying.

“Usually, everybody leaves happy—both the clients and the volunteers,” Amina says. “It’s just a good feeling to know you’ve helped somebody when they needed you.”