Many free tax preparation programs find colleges and universities to be essential partners. The United Way of Passaic County in New Jersey has learned that high schools are also a valuable partnership in their tax credit outreach efforts. Through its Financial Aid U program, United Way has built relationships with school staff and principals to help connect low-income and first generation college students to financial resources for post-secondary education.
Financial Aid U is a part of United Way’s Financial Empowerment Zone initiative, which helps residents increase their financial stability. The program offers free tax help, credit counseling, financial coaching, financial education workshops and college application tips for high school seniors, and assistance enrolling in health care and other programs.
Some high schools hold Report Card Nights, when parents are invited to pick up the students’ report cards directly from the schools. There, United Way staff talks to parents about the VITA program, set up tables to recruit VITA volunteers, and provide information about the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.
During Financial Aid Nights, United Way staff goes to high schools to assist parents of seniors with college financial aid forms and share information on free tax assistance services. Students who attend also learn tips on budgeting while in school during financial education workshops. By collaborating with guidance counselors at the schools, United Way of Passaic County makes announcements over the public announcement systems to find student volunteers for its VITA sites and shares information on free tax filing to school employees.
Working with high schools and cultivating relationships with principals has allowed United Way of Passaic County to increase its reach, fulfill its mission, and help prepare the next generation for financial success.