By LESLIE COLLINS
January 30, 2013
Tax season can be stressful, but the University of Missouri Extension Office and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) are ready to help area residents tackle their taxes – for free.
For years, the extension office has offered the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, but is only in its second year of offering the program in the urban core. This year, VITA will offer tax preparation services at the North-East Public Library beginning Jan. 28.
“It’s a service that should for the most part be provided for free instead of making the community go to a paid-for tax company,” said Shatomi Luster, education specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Office. “We are all about the community, so the whole goal is to help the community and provide a service that’s free for them.”
To qualify for the program, individuals must earn less than $50,000 per year.
To further assist the extension office, 10 AmeriCorps NCCC participants traveled from the Denver campus to Kansas City and will be lending their services through March 21.
The VITA project ranked second on their list of most desired projects, said AmeriCorps NCCC Team Leader Kimberly Nihon.
“We all wanted to come here,” Nihon said.
Twenty-eight teams from the Denver campus are working in the southwest region of the U.S. and will complete a total of four projects each over the course of 10 months. All team members are 18 to 24 years old. Service projects include rehabilitating low-income housing, providing aid following a natural disaster, urban and rural development, environmental stewardship, among others.
“The main purpose of these teams is to truly be entrenched in the community and help the community,” Luster said. “I think it’s awesome.”
Luster said she’s also looking forward to having 10 extra people to operate VITA in the urban core.
“We were doing our best to meet the needs of the community (last year), but I quickly found out that two or three volunteers wasn’t meeting the needs of the community,” Luster said. “I was super excited to have 10 additional hands that were very willing to be entrenched in the community. Every person on the team is very sincere.”
In addition to providing tax services, the AmeriCorps team will also market the VITA program and walk along Independence Avenue to spread the word about the Community Improvement District pilot program.
AmeriCorps participant Cole Anneberg said one of the draws of the project is the opportunity to work in an urban area.
“It also appealed to us because it’s something that’s very new to us,” Anneberg said. “A lot of us have never been exposed to tax preparation before; it was out of our element and something new to see.”
Luster stressed that each team member has now undergone tax training and is certified by the IRS.
In addition to serving the community, the team is ready to acclimate themselves to Kansas City.
“There’s so much history, jazz and blues in the city. It’s a wonderful place in the midwest,” AmeriCorps team member Michael Bottari said. “I’m interested in the city and seeing what’s going on around here.”
During their first week, the team toured the Country Club Plaza, the downtown area, the Power and Light District, and caught a glimpse of the founding director of AmeriCorps, Donald L. Scott, at the Central Public Library.
“That was certainly a surprise for us and an exciting one at that,” Nihon said of seeing Scott.
During their stay, the team hopes to help the Extension Office iron out any wrinkles with VITA, so the program will run even better next year, Nihon said.
“I’m just very excited to be able to interact with people in the community face-to-face and help them with something that’s usually a very difficult and confusing process and making it easier for them,” Bottari said.
Free Tax Preparation Locations
• North-East Public Library, 6000 Wilson Rd. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through March 21
• University of Missouri Extension Office, 2700 E. 18th St., first floor Public Computer Center Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through March 21
• Walk-ins are welcome at North-East Public Library. The Extension Office location accepts appointments only. To schedule an appointment, contact Shatomi Luster, (816) 482-5850.