January 31, 2024 at 12:35 a.m.

TAXES ON FILE

VITA kicks off its latest tax season at Catholic Central School in Latham
UNITED WAY OF THE GREATER CAPITAL REGION, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, and student volunteers at Catholic Central School, kick off the 2024 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) season on Friday, Jan. 26, at Catholic Central School in Latham. Attendees included Representative Paul Tonko (fifth from r.) and Jennifer Hyde, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Albany (fifth from l., middle row). (Emily Benson photo)
UNITED WAY OF THE GREATER CAPITAL REGION, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, and student volunteers at Catholic Central School, kick off the 2024 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) season on Friday, Jan. 26, at Catholic Central School in Latham. Attendees included Representative Paul Tonko (fifth from r.) and Jennifer Hyde, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Albany (fifth from l., middle row). (Emily Benson photo)

By Emily Benson | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

On a rainy Friday morning, dozens gathered together to talk taxes. 

At a press conference, held on Friday, Jan. 26, at Catholic Central School in Latham, United Way of the Greater Capital Region (UWGCR), Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, and their partners in the Greater Capital Region CA$H Coalition, kicked off the 2024 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) season. 

For years, the VITA program has been a crucial service for locals to obtain free tax preparation services from IRS-trained and certified volunteers. Last year, more than 4,800 residents in the Capital District filed their taxes through VITA.

Albany’s Catholic Charities helps oversee three of the VITA sites around the Capital District: the Pastoral Center in Albany, Catholic Central School in Latham and Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.

As a start to the season, VITA program partners and supporters came out to CCS to celebrate another year of getting money back to those who most need it. Some of the speakers included Peter Gannon, UWGCR president and CEO; Jennifer Hyde, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany; and Representative Paul Tonko (NY-20).

“In the past three years, this coalition has prepared over 15,000 tax returns, filing $17 million in refunds, $7 million in the EITC, and saving filers $4 million in filing fees,” Gannon said. “The volunteers are the lifeblood of this program. They are across generations, across faiths, (and) it’s the very best of everything that we do. They are tremendously dedicated individuals. That dedication literally changes lives across the Capital Region.”

Some of those volunteers include the accounting students at CCS, who attended the press conference with accounting teacher George Hannah. Students at Catholic Central have been volunteering with VITA for over 20 years, which allows students to gain hands-on experience while helping locals file their tax returns. 

As a thank you for their efforts, students were honored by UWGCR with the Community Impact Award at its annual awards celebration last June. 

“It’s been really cool to see people come in and help them out,” said Emily Wheland, senior at CCS. “I’ve gotten a lot of clients who come in and say it’s really important that you guys are doing this, or it’s really special that you’re doing this for free because not a lot of people can afford to pay to get their taxes done.”

VITA representatives were hopeful that their continued efforts would also help spread the word of the growing need for volunteers in the program as the demand for help continues to climb.

“We are seeing a double-digit increase in our food pantries as people need help with basic necessities,” Hyde said. “The one thing the VITA program does for us … (is) they lift people out of poverty. The money coming in each month from hard-working folks, and the money going out to pay for food, clothes for their children, gas to get to work, bus tokens to get to work, it’s too much. That is where the VITA program is critical. They don’t just do taxes, they also sit down and talk to folks about how they may use their refund.”

The average income for last year’s VITA filers was $30,382, but families and individuals who earn less than $60,000 per year are eligible to file through the program.

“We see it every day, people who are not able to make ends meet at the end of the month and we are here for them, but the VITA program is here for them as well,” Hyde added. “Millions of dollars (go) back into our community every year from the VITA program. Millions of dollars for people to buy food, to get to work, to buy sneakers for their child.”

VITA is currently seeking additional volunteers for the tax program. All necessary training on how to help file a client’s tax return is provided and no past tax experience is necessary. If interested, contact VITA program coordinator Andrew Kochian at [email protected]


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