Written by Juanita Fox
Most people dread tax season, but at Garden Spot Village a small group of volunteers looks forward to it. For them, tax season offers an opportunity to live with purpose and serve their community. They provide free tax return preparation through the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, supported locally through United Way in Lancaster.
Steve O’Neill, the VITA Director at United Way says, “The VITA Program is a powerful anti-poverty tool, providing free tax prep services to anyone earning less than $62,000 annually. VITA ensures that hard-working individuals and families receive the maximum tax benefits available without losing hundreds of dollars in paid-preparer fees.”
He continues, “This year, we project that United Way VITA volunteers will help over 10,000 taxpayers file their tax returns for free.” In addition, Steve says, “VITA believes in reducing the typical anxiety and frustration of tax time and replacing it with hope. Hope to take advantage of the opportunity that tax refunds often provide to our clients to invest in their future. VITA volunteers are there for one reason only: to help. They aren’t there for a paycheck, which means that we are focused solely on our clients and their needs. We simply want to help.”
Duane Tice, a Garden Spot Village resident since April 2008 and the VITA coordinator for the Garden Spot Village location, echoes that desire to help, saying that many people are anxious and nervous when they arrive for their appointments. But, he says, “We help them get their taxes done and they walk out with a smile.”
Duane says the IRS started VITA to help people comply with the federal law that compels every person who is eligible to file a tax return. United Way of Lancaster County supports 15 VITA locations around the county including Garden Spot Village. Garden Spot Village began offering tax assistance through VITA 15 years ago.
Sam Beyer, a Garden Spot Village resident since December 2004, has been helping as a volunteer for the past 12 years. Before moving to Garden Spot Village he worked as a tax preparer at H&R Block for two years. That experience, plus a career in accounting, makes him a perfect VITA volunteer. Sam says, “I’m fascinated with the tax program, and my involvement helps me keep up to date.” He continues, “At Garden Spot Village they encourage volunteering, so as I reviewed my volunteering options I realized this program was the right fit for my interests.”
Over the past eleven weeks, Duane, Sam and a team of four additional volunteers have prepared nearly 200 tax returns for residents of Garden Spot Village and the broader Lancaster County community. They work a four-hour shift one day a week in a temporary office in the Parlor adjacent to the Chapel. To support the efforts, Garden Spot Village provides computers each year, all equipped with TaxSlayer, a web-based software which does not save personal information.
The volunteers truly make a difference for the people they serve, creating relationships and a sense of welcome. Duane shared that one couple traveled from Gap, even though they had an office closer to their home, because they appreciated the volunteers and atmosphere at Garden Spot Village.
Duane hopes to build the program and possibly offer a second day of tax prep next year. He says people who are good at math, good with computers and good with people are perfect volunteers.
If you are interested in learning more about VITA or making a difference in your community by volunteering with this program, contact Duane Tice at 717-355-6681.