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VITA Student Volunteer Makes a Difference

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Growing up in Arlington, TX, Cayla Tongol experienced firsthand the financial challenges her parents faced raising her and her sister. Each year, the annual tax refund provided a lifeline for her family, allowing them to catch up on bills and put food on the table.

Cayla’s personal experience fueled her commitment to making a meaningful impact on the lives of others, which led her to volunteer for United Way of Tarrant County’s (UWTC) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. 

Cayla is currently a junior at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), double majoring in Accounting and Information Systems. Her journey with VITA began when she learned about the opportunity through one of her professors last year. Eager to contribute to her community, she saw VITA as a chance to assist families in navigating the complexities of tax filing.

VITA’s Impact

VITA provides free income tax preparation to households with incomes of $64,000 or less. Over the past 14 years, VITA volunteers have filed more than 88,000 tax returns, securing over $158 million in refunds for Tarrant County residents.

With multiple VITA locations across Tarrant County, and flexible roles, VITA welcomes volunteers from all walks of life, including retirees, veterans, working parents and college students. In 2023 alone, 34 college students from UTA, Texas Wesleyan, and Texas Christian University volunteered for VITA.

Discovering Purpose

During her first year as a volunteer, Cayla prepared taxes for families and individuals at the Tarrant County College Southeast Campus. With each person who sat at her station, she gained a profound understanding of the importance of her role. The numbers she processed weren't just figures on a tax return; they represented crucial income for individuals and families. These funds often played a pivotal role in covering essential expenses such as rent, utilities and groceries.

“I wanted to help with these people, and I feel great pride that I was able to play a minimal part in being able to help families and individuals to improve their financial situation,” said Cayla. “I understand the necessity, which is why I take pride in what I have been doing, thanks to this program.” 

Entering her second year as a VITA volunteer, Cayla is not only encouraging those who qualify to utilize the program's services but also inspiring others to get involved through volunteering. 

In 2023, Cayla's commitment to VITA was recognized with a $500 scholarship, courtesy of federal community project funding facilitated by U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey. 

Become a VITA Volunteer 

If you’re interested in joining Cayla in being a VITA Volunteer, sign up! You don’t have to be a math expert to lend a hand. Right now, VITA has a variety of volunteer opportunities available, including translators for non-English speaking clients, intake specialists to greet clients upon arrival and savings ambassadors to share information about ways to save through VITA. 

Learn more about becoming a VITA volunteer