Tax season is finally here, which means our free tax preparation program is underway. Every year we prepare more than 12,000 tax returns for our neighbors and return over $20M of hard-earned refunds to working families. Since we began this program in 2004, we have served over 100,000 New Yorkers and returned over $100M to local communities.

When so many New Yorkers– especially those that live in communities impacted by systemic racism–are suffering economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that the economic relief provided by a tax refund is more vital than ever. But serving as an Ariva volunteer can also bring many benefits. In this age of social distancing, it’s so easy to feel disconnected from our larger community: volunteering is one way of fostering much-needed connection while making a difference.

Earlier this year, we interviewed Shanthi Subramanyam, one of our long-time volunteers who volunteers with us each year when she visits NYC from Dubai. She works for a chemical company and is passionate about economic justice. Below, we feature a redacted version of our interview where she describes the sense of community among Ariva volunteers and clients:

  1. Why did you first choose to volunteer with Ariva?

I am a lifelong New Yorker, born in Poughkeepsie. I wanted to give back to my home state and signed up with New York Cares. There, I found out about Ariva’s incredible free tax preparation program. I was drawn to Ariva’s mission of increasing financial empowerment and inclusion. I first signed up for their tax program in 2015 but have been involved in many projects ever since.

2.  Why do you come back to Ariva every year?

There are just so many lovely people at Ariva. I am always amazed by how they deal with the clients. That brings me back every year. Ariva treats clients with dignity and respect, and it shows. I love the way they make the clients feel. In turn, the clients treat us well, and they are happy with us. If there’s ever a conflict, there’s a quick resolution. But it goes beyond our clients.

Ariva makes us volunteers feel like we matter. I remember when I first started, I was worried about making mistakes, but Ariva treated me so well. Everyone is kind and helpful. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve never been made to feel stupid. That gives me confidence because I’m not a tax professional. We all make mistakes, and we help each other correct them. These are little things, but they add up to an excellent experience for me. With each client, I feel like I’m making a little bit of a difference. But it’s even more significant to be part of a group that is making a big difference.

3. What makes Ariva a unique place to volunteer?

Ariva treats everyone with respect and takes everyone’s needs into account. I’m vegetarian, and Ariva always makes sure that there are vegetarian options for me. While it might not seem like much, those actions add up. Everyone feels like they matter. You aren’t a client or a volunteer; you are a person. As an Ariva Tax Prep Volunteer, you can know that you will be a part of Ariva’s impact and community even though you’re doing this remotely. It’s impossible not to feel connected with Ariva because everyone is so kind and friendly.

Read more about becoming an Ariva Tax Prep Volunteer.