AmeriCorps Stories: A Q&A With Former Member Abbie Watton
AmeriCorps is a national program that connects individuals and organizations to help communities tackle their toughest challenges. At United Way of King County, AmeriCorps members work up to 12-month terms on projects that include ending homelessness, increasing food security and helping students graduate in King County. Members gain an expanded network of connections and learn valuable experience that often leads to employment after the project ends—all while earning trust and gratitude from the communities they serve.
We urge you to apply to AmeriCorps to join our awesome team of young people working to make a difference. This year, we are also excited to offer the highest possible living stipend for our county, a monthly $250 housing stipend, an additional $1,000 completion bonus for members who complete a full term of service, and access to an emergency financial assistance program to mitigate any unforeseen financial hardships that might happen during the service term.
We also urge you to share this with those you know who are looking for a great first step in their careers. Want to know more? We’ve asked Abbie Watton, United Way rental assistance program coordinator and a former United Way AmeriCorps member, to share insights about the program.
United Way of King County: Tell us a little about you.
Abbie Watton: I’m originally from rural central Illinois, and I went to college in central Illinois and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. After college, I honestly was not sure what I wanted to do. I have an older sister who did AmeriCorps Triple-C, and through her I learned about AmeriCorps as a whole. I got my first year of AmeriCorps in Triple-C, and when I was in my service year one of my assignments was at United Way of King County.
My project with United Way was a tax preparer for 12 weeks with the Free Tax Preparation campaign. Through that experience I got connected with the program manager and program coordinator. They invited me to apply for a VISTA position with the tax team. That’s how I wormed my way into United Way, and I was able to build those connections the first year and then see some of them come to fruition my second year.
United Way of King County: What is Triple-C?
Abbie Watton: That is the National Civilian Community Corps, which is basically another branch of AmeriCorps. You can think of it as the Peace Corps, but stateside. We would have different project rounds and get assigned to various agencies. I ended up working with five different organizations during that service year; I kind of bounced around between California, Washington and Montana. I got to work with Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, some food banks, disaster relief. I feel like I got a really wide scope through those projects. For some reason, I took a knack to doing taxes and I loved it.
United Way of King County: Where did you take part in disaster relief?
Abbie Watton: My team was based in California, and disaster relief would be a spur-of-the-moment project. I was working at a food bank, and my team got the call to respond to the Paradise fires in Northern California. We got to help with the long-term recovery projects. My team worked at three different animal shelters, so I got to play with cats, dogs and livestock. There was definitely some intensity with what happened in that surrounding community, but there were also some opportunities to care for the animals and help owners get matched up with their animals.
United Way of King County: Prior to being involved in the Free Tax Prep program, how often had you prepared your own taxes?
Abbie Walton: I had no idea how to do my taxes before that. My team, we attended the same volunteer training that all the community volunteers attend. It is a crash course in taxes, but the information we receive along with the training materials allowed my teammates and me to quiz each other at home and discuss tax situations at our houses together. Having that group was really helpful. Once we got that training and put it to practice by doing practice returns and then real returns, it enabled me to put that knowledge to use and store it away. I also got to be a volunteer with the program in Federal Way this tax season, which was really cool.
Regardless of what [a tax preparation client’s] actual inquiry is, we need to be able to rephrase some of the tax lingos and communicate effectively with people. It was just making sure they had someone there who would take the time to explain it and help them understand what it means. And if it’s impacting them negatively, how can we address this for the next tax year?Abbie Watton, United Way rental assistance program coordinator and a former United Way AmeriCorps member
United Way of King County: What are some of main questions tax preparers get from folks after the taxes have been prepared?
Abbie Watton: I would say one of the main questions I get is, “Why is my refund that much?” or “Why is my refund that little.” A lot of the times that boils down to being able to explain what the tax return says, reference the various forms that are populated, being able to explain information on the W2 as it appears on the tax return. Regardless of what their actual inquiry is, we need to be able to rephrase some of the tax lingos and communicate effectively with people. It was just making sure they had someone there who would take the time to explain it and help them understand what it means. And if it’s impacting them negatively, how can we address this for the next tax year? In terms of withholdings and those types of things, sometimes people can take control of those situation and better their taxes for the next season.
United Way of King County: How have you applied lessons learned at AmeriCorps to your current work?
Abbie Watton: When I was a VISTA on the tax team, one of the opportunities I had was to help develop a drop-off tax model. It wasn’t my original idea, but I had an opportunity to expand upon it and implement my own version of it, which was very stressful but very empowering to say that I wrote that process document and trained other AmeriCorps members. That was very helpful as I now help manage a whole team for the rental assistance program.
United Way of King County: What would you tell postgraduates who are currently unsure about their futures, as you once were?
Abbie Watton: If they are interested in any service or nonprofit or community-based thing, there is an AmeriCorps position out there for them. If they can identify one or two points of interest, there are usually AmeriCorps out there for any interest.