WICHITA, Kan., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 — United Way of the Plains is recruiting 300 volunteers for the 2022 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that will run Jan. 31 through April. The service is offered at no charge to households making $58,000 or less annually. United Way of the Plains recruits and trains volunteers to become IRS certified to file taxes and identify tax credits. More than 6,300 returns were prepared in 2021, and $7.6 million was returned to the local economy. Tax refunds help clients become financially stable by retaining more of their money for rent, food, medical costs and other necessary expenses.
Colleen O’Callaghan has managed the program for United Way of the Plains for the past sixteen years. She said, “Every year about 200 volunteers help people access the money and tax credits they’re entitled to receive. It’s rewarding work because we see people using their income tax refunds for car repair bills, prescriptions for glasses and other necessities. Volunteers are the backbone of this program and we’re currently filling roles for site coordinators, greeters and tax preparers. Our goal is to increase the number of volunteers for the next tax season so we can continue to grow our financial impact on the community.”
Gina Hollingshead has volunteered for the program for the last twelve years. Hollingshead calls VITA well managed, challenging and rewarding. “It is well managed because training is available to meet any volunteer’s schedule and way of learning from traditional classroom to online lessons, to the hands-on computer lab staffed by experienced preparers ready to answer questions. We may operate from multiple locations for the convenience of our clients, but we always work together to cover each other as needed.”
“It’s challenging because no two returns are the same. We have to apply what we’ve learned or test to see if a new tax law may benefit our client. We have to explain how we arrived at that bottom line or what they might do differently to improve the outcome next year. And each return is double checked so that we can learn from those more experienced volunteers on our team.”
“It’s rewarding when you are able to get them a refund they weren’t expecting or find that exemption to avoid a penalty. Our clients are appreciative of the effort we put in to maximize their refunds. They know we are giving our time to help them, and they thank us not just by words, but often by cards or notes, or coming back with lunch when they see we worked through ours to get their return done. We are glad when they come back each year and I think they, too, appreciate seeing familiar faces along with the new ones.”
Interested volunteers should sign up at unitedwayplains.org/taxvolunteer.
Since 2003, United Way of the Plains has partnered with the Building Economic Stability Together (BE$T) Coalition of South-Central Kansas to provide free tax filing services for low-to-moderate income individuals. Funded through an annual grant secured and managed by United Way of the Plains, the program is conducted locally by the BE$T Coalition of South Central Kansas, which was founded and is supported by the City of Wichita, IRS and United Way.
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United Way of the Plains is a nonprofit and for-impact organization that focuses on health, education, financial stability and basic needs – the building blocks for a good quality of life and a strong community. Our mission is to improve lives by harnessing the caring power of our community to advance the common good in south central Kansas. Follow us on these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok.