UH Hilo accounting senior volunteering as tax assistant

Tehani Palolo is a student volunteer for the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA) program, working daily at the Hawaii First Federal Credit Union to assist community members in properly filing their taxes.

By Daisy Willis

Tehani Palolo seated at desk.
Tehani Palolo

Taxes are not fun, but this is only because of the hours they take and the incomprehensible legal jargon that covers the pages. Believe it or not, there are students at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo who not only understand that jargon, but also enjoy the practice of filing taxes!

As an accounting senior, Tehani Palolo is a student volunteer for the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and works daily at the Hawaii First Federal Credit Union to assist community members in properly filing their taxes. Her responsibilities include meeting and greeting the clients, conducting their official interviews, collecting their documents, and preparing those documents for a team of advanced volunteers to review.

In order to be qualified for her job, Palolo had to go through an administered test with the Internal Revenue Service to be certified to handle other people’s taxes. The process to get her position was lengthy, but well worth it.

Palolo’s supervisor, Siniva Pota, spoke very highly of her saying, “Tehani has taken on such a special role in our program, and adds to the professionalism, dependability, and overall team spirit that we have here at Hawaii First. She contributes so much, by way of being willing to learn, adapt, and extend herself professionally, even when not asked to do so by myself or other superiors. We know that she can be counted on, and that she takes her work here very seriously, and so that puts us all at ease, especially since she serves as the front-line of our credit union.

“Interestingly, when she deals with our clients, they do not know that she’s a volunteer, but rather assume that she’s an employee of the credit union, and that’s because she shines so well, and carries herself in such a professional manner.”

Applied learning in action

Three women, two are seated, look at computer screen.
Tehani Palolo assists others in doing their taxes as a volunteer with VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistant Program. Courtesy photo.

Palolo applies herself and her skills in many ways through her work with the VITA Program.

She spoke about her experiences saying, “I am definitely able to use the information I learned in my accounting class to be able to prepare the taxes, as well as where to look for new developments in tax code changes. However, through all the group assignments and interactions I have at UH, I learned how to communicate difficult concepts in an effective way and now I am applying those skills to interact with tax clients. Being a VITA volunteer, I am able to develop my professional skills, such as developing effective communication, staying calm under pressure, and motivating people to keep working their hardest.

“VITA has helped me be able to use everything I’ve learned as a student and how to apply that to real work scenarios. They taught me how to be an efficient worker who can accomplish any task I am given. They also showed me how every task, no matter how small it may be, is important to achieving goals of a group or organization.”

Palolo connected with her current supervisors in 2014 through the UH Hilo Spring Job and Internship Fair sponsored by the Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX), and she has been working with them ever since.

She says that “no matter what someone’s major is, volunteering will help develop a person’s skills and abilities and help them learn more about the subject and about themselves. Plus, it feels good knowing that you helped someone in your own special way. I don’t normally have the skills to help someone with typical services, such as tutoring or conservation, but with the VITA program, I am able to help people using the skills that I do have.”

-From the ALEX blog (no longer online).