Giving Back to Those in Need

For Jesus, it was his sister who INSPIRED him to join the Roots & Shoots group she had been part of. “At first I was a little hesitant,” he says. “I was going into high school, and I didn’t know what I liked, interests, any of that.” But then, he says, “I just did it.”

In Jesus’s community of Santa Barbara, California, there’s a large gap between the very wealthy and those struggling to make ends meet. His Roots & Shoots group OBSERVED a significant need for financial assistance and partnered with the United Way to become a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) chapter. Jesus jumped into ACTION, taking courses during lunch to become certified by the Internal Revenue Service. After school, he and his group took walk-in appointments and prepared tax returns for low-income families and individuals.

At first, both the students and the clients were a bit unsure about the arrangement. Clients, says Jesus, “would kind of look at us like, ‘You’re a high school student, and you’re doing my taxes?’” But Jesus had worked hard in the tax courses, and he grew confident in his abilities. He remembers thinking, “Yes. But I can do them. And I’m good at them.”

I was able to help, and I knew I was able to help.

Jesús Terrazas Roots & Shoots Member
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Jesus remembers one client, in particular, a single mother who was brought to tears when he told her that she would receive a significant tax refund. He knew she desperately needed money for her family, and helping her made him realize how important his work was. “I was able to help,” he says, “and I knew I was able to help. That’s kind of the moment that really just sparked my interest, and I just kept doing it.”

Jesus’ Roots & Shoots group MEASURED the impact of their VITA project, and the difference they made in providing financial assistance to people in need was profound. Between January and April 15 each year, their group of ten to 12 students was able to prepare tax returns for 600 to 800 families.

The students didn’t accept payment for their services, but to thank them, one client threw a party at the end of each tax season. The CELEBRATION included clients, the Roots & Shoots students, and IRS agents who had supported the group’s efforts.

Jesus credits his Roots & Shoots experience with helping him to develop some crucial life skills, including confidence and empathy, as well as strengths in communication, leadership, and public speaking.

Everyone can make a difference.

If you’re inspired by Jesus’s activism, find out how you can make a difference in your own community.

After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbra, Jesus is now an event manager working for a large event planning company. “I’m just completely in love with what I do right now,” he says. “Its great, because the organization thing that I used to do before, I keep doing that now, just on a bigger scale. A much bigger scale,” he says with a laugh. “It’s perfect, actually.”

His favorite jobs are managing events for nonprofits. Recently, he was asked to plan an event for the United Way, the organization that sponsored the high school tax project. “It all comes around,” he says. “Everything’s connected.”

Looking back on his time with Roots & Shoots, Jesus says he “loved every moment of it,” including the opportunity to meet other youth groups from around the United States and learn from students from different areas and with different perspectives. “My experience was really great,” he says—“that sense of community and connection.”

And he’s still giving back to his community. “I’m still doing taxes!” he says.

Are you young person like Jesús and looking for ways to become a changemaker for your community? Read more stories below or get started right away with a 1-click action!


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