Catholic Central students (at r.) Nikko Peluso, Jack Simple and Derrick Anderson (behind Simple) help Uriel and Florence Huntley with tax prep, while Nick Farley (at l.) assists Crystal Hodge. (Franchesa Caputo photo)
Catholic Central students (at r.) Nikko Peluso, Jack Simple and Derrick Anderson (behind Simple) help Uriel and Florence Huntley with tax prep, while Nick Farley (at l.) assists Crystal Hodge. (Franchesa Caputo photo)

Local students are once again among the volunteers assisting low-income individuals and families through Catholic Charities’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) at the Pastoral Center. 

The program, which was slated to run until April 15, has been suspended, however, starting March 13 until March 27 due to “the potential risks associated with COVID-19 to our volunteers and clients,” said the United Way, which runs in the program in conjunction with Catholic Charities, in a press release on Thursday, March 12. This includes all VITA sites in the Capital Region, including the Pastoral Center in Albany. 

“We will reassess the situation and provide updates as needed and make every attempt to accommodate our clients who depend on this service. In the meantime, we encourage those eligible to visit United Way’s MyFreeTaxes.com to file. The health of our partners and volunteers is our top priority.”

Many of the volunteers of the program come from Catholic Central High School - which has its own business center at the school, the Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation for Business Excellence. Much of the students’ accounting grade depends on the work they do in their community. 

Once IRS-certified, students provide individuals and households that make under $56,000 a year with free tax preparation, according to George Hannah, who teaches accounting and business classes to students in grades 9-12 at CCHS. Students from The College of Saint Rose and retired professionals who are looking to give back to their community, are also part of the volunteer base. 

VITA works in collaboration with the CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Coalition of the Greater Capital Region to facilitate the program.

“On the student end, it allows them to build a really incredible skill at a young age - having that IRS certification,” said Eileen Spath, marketing and community manager for Catholic Charities for the Albany Diocese, “But it also allows them to develop soft skills like working with the community.”

 Once the program is restarted, individuals can call 2-11, the United Way helpline, to make an appointment and be connected with a VITA site near them. April 15, tax day in the U.S., is the only day individuals can show up without an appointment, although, both Spath and Hannah warn that people shouldn’t wait that long. While the last day is first-come first-serve, oftentimes conference rooms fill up fast with people.

“We did 120 (tax preparations) one April 15,” Hannah said.