Catholic Central Students Rose Murphy and Paul Barber closely examine a tax return while volunteering in the Catholic Charities Volunteer Income Tax (VITA) program.
Catholic Central Students Rose Murphy and Paul Barber closely examine a tax return while volunteering in the Catholic Charities Volunteer Income Tax (VITA) program.
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Paul Barber, a junior at Catholic Central High School in Troy, shuffles through tax forms in the basement of the diocesan Pastoral Center in Albany. At Catholic Central, Barber is like any other high school student; here, he’s an accountant.

“I get to actually come here and help people which is great,” said Barber. “Coming from a Catholic school and a Catholic family, getting to help people is great.”

Barber is one of many student volunteers who help locals in the Albany Diocese file their tax returns, thanks to the Catholic Charities Volunteer Income Tax (VITA) program. 

VITA, which works in collaboration with the CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Coalition of the Greater Capital Region, offers free tax preparation services from IRS-trained and certified volunteers to individuals or families with a household income of $54,000 or less.

VITA has been working in collaboration with Catholic Central students since its inception almost 15 years ago. The program allows students to gain hands-on experience in the accounting field.

Mary Olsen, VITA program director, said the program has a number of student-volunteers from colleges such as The College of Saint Rose, Siena College and SUNY Albany. The program teaches students a level of professionalism, she said, so clients can feel comfortable having their taxes done by someone so young. 

“One women said earlier, ‘These are high school kids?’” said Olsen. “And I said, ‘Oh yes, and they are certified by the IRS, and they’ve been doing this for a long time.’”

George Hannah, accounting and business teacher for Catho­lic Central, said all students enrolled in his accounting class are required to volunteer with VITA as part of the class curriculum. Students are also trained by a VITA member before they can volunteer.

“Someone comes in and trains [the students] in class,” said Hannah. “We provide lunch and they get trained to basically do taxes … and a lot of what we’re learning in the classroom correlates to what they’re learning with VITA.”

While Catholic Charities oversees the VITA program offered in the Pastoral Center, the CA$H Coalition offers numerous VITA sites around the Diocese, such as at St. Matthew’s Church in Voor­heesville and the Saratoga Springs public library. Annually, the program kicked off at the end of January and runs through April 15, the last day to file taxes. 

In 2016, the Catholic Charities VITA program helped 887 people file their taxes for free, and saved them more than $240,000. Last year, the program helped nearly 1,000 taxpayers in the area. 

All VITA volunteers help clients with preparing their tax returns and determine if they are eligible for valuable tax credits. Student volunteers work in pairs, and every return is checked by an advanced certified accountant. 

Olsen said that a majority of clients who come in each year are returnees, and that she knows a number by name: “When they leave you say, ‘Okay I’ll see ya next year!’ And we do.”

Jean Dobbs, who has been getting her taxes done by Catholic Charities for the past four years, says saving that extra money helps pay for food and bills. 

Dobbs, who was a program director with Catholic Charities for more than 30 years, adds that coming to VITA lets her revisit old friends in her retirement.

“It’s like coming home,” she said. 

For more information about the Catholic Charities VITA program, call 518-512-3577. For a full listing of VITA program sites, visit https://www.unitedwaygcr.org/cash.