When it comes to helping foster youth, Charlene Morales has done it all. She’s helped youth find housing, secure employment, access mental health resources, locate essential documents and more.
So she didn’t bat an eye when her employer, The Community College Foundation (TCCF), added another critical service to its list of offerings for foster youth: tax filing! Instead, she dug in and made a difference, helping young people complete a whopping 53 tax returns!
TCCF is one of 15 organizations that John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) is working with statewide to implement the newly created Foster Youth Tax Credit. To date, a total of 4,438 foster youth have claimed the credit, drawing down $4.6 million.
Thanks to Charlene, the 53 young people she helped received an estimated $108,809 in tax refunds and credits; an average of $2,053 each. Each dollar helps youth maintain housing, purchase food and remain enrolled in school.
Charlene recalls one young parent she helped. “She was so happy because she was going to be able to put it towards a car. She was tired of having to take the bus with her little one. Being a single mom in the past, I knew exactly how much that extra money helps. She was going to be able to drive her daughter and not worry about the rain or getting on the bus. That one was really rewarding.”
To reach 53 returns, Charlene went above and beyond, including helping foster youth at night and on the weekends. She explains that she did it because she knows that foster youth don’t have a lot of people in their lives who can help. “The youth told me they were so glad that I was volunteering to do this because they had no one to teach them.”
Veronica Galvez is the Senior Director of Youth Programs at TCCF and thinks the secret to Charlene’s success was finding creative ways to transform tax filing into an engaging learning session for young people.
“Charlene has a naturally calming and friendly way that also allows her to build rapport with clients quickly. I can think of at least one client that didn’t show up to several appointments, but she tracked them down and encouraged them to continue with the process. She’s naturally nurturing with an abundance of patience.”
JBAY Executive Director Amy Lemley was bowled over when she learned about Charlene’s accomplishment. “Talk about going above and beyond! I really can’t say enough about the difference Charlene has made in the lives of the young people she helped. JBAY appreciates her dedication and the great work of TCCF.”
The tax season isn’t done, but JBAY is already thinking about how to increase rates of filing in 2024. This will include working again with the strong team at TCCF.
Statewide, JBAY is working to ensure 10,000 current and former foster youth receive the Foster Youth Tax Credit. JBAY also has a special focus on expectant and parenting youth in Los Angeles County, with the goal of helping at least 150 file their taxes and claim the Foster Youth Tax Credit.
JBAY conducted a six county pilot project that found tax filing increased the annual income of young parents in foster care by 31%. That’s strong evidence for Lemley. “Young parents in foster care can be successful, but we need to support them. Increasing their income by helping them access the Foster Youth Tax Credit is one practical step we can take.”
Great volunteers like Charlene will be the key to success.