VITA Volunteer: Brett

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By Jasam “Brett” Layne-Roy, Goodwill Tax Program Coordinator

My name is Jasam Brett Layne-Roy, I was a student volunteer tax preparer for the VITA program this past year and it was an amazing experience. I was able to make an impact in my own community, fulfill my work experience requirements at Baker College, and was able to apply my current coursework directly in my daily tasks.

I was put in touch with Carl and the VITA program near the end of last year. I had been searching for a job for several weeks thinking I would capitalize on the tax season but most places either had full classes for training or they had no open positions. I went to Baker College to speak with someone to help me find something to fulfill my work experience credit and ended up speaking with one of the program directors who told me about this volunteer program that provided tax preparation assistance. She had also thought there was a stipend of some kind so it wouldn’t be completely unpaid.

The volunteer work alone was incredibly rewarding but the additional assistance that the stipend afforded was just what I needed. I was able to cover most of my book costs with that stipend…which was the bare minimum that I was going for at the time. That allowed me to focus on volunteer work and not need an additional job that wouldn’t further my career or impact my home life or coursework. The stipend helped me to recruit more students that wanted to volunteer and needed some additional support for their school costs. In addition to the added benefit of the work experience and the stipend, volunteering with the VITA program has given me a few new opportunities in potential scholarship funding as some requirements for scholarships include of performing community service.

Over the summer months and throughout the fall, we will be recruiting volunteers for the VITA program for the next tax season. We are looking for individuals that can volunteer around 10 hours per month to aid in our recruitment drives by attending brainstorming meetings, setting up and run a table or booth at a local event, and spreading awareness about the VITA program! We will need your assistance from July through October, and hopefully again when the new tax season hits early next year. If you are interested, please call me at (231) 722-7871 x 1073

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New tax season= New options

By Carl Lewis, Tax Preparation Coordinator

Another tax season is rapidly approaching and we are gearing up to serve the community. Each year it is a challenge to serve the increasing demand, but it’s also a very rewarding experience to be a part of an effort that positively impacts so many people and families in West Michigan.

Last year, our dedicated Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers filed nearly 3,000 federal and state tax returns, and returned more than $3 million to the community!

Recruiting VITA volunteers continues to be a challenge. This year, thanks to a generous grant from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, we were able to offer eligible college students – many studying finance or accounting – a $500 stipend each for their efforts. Thanks to some helpful collaborative professors at MCC and Baker, we were able to recruit 15 new volunteers through this initiative.

All of our tax preparers must be thoroughly trained and pass an IRS certification test. It has been a pleasure to train and share my experience with others. Knowing how to do taxes is a valuable life-long skill!

Also new this year is a “drop and go” full-service option. Filers meet with an intake specialist to deliver necessary documents and pick up their completed returns a week later. This eliminates wait time and gives volunteers more flexible work hours and an opportunity to work at their own pace.

Helping people with their taxes also presents opportunities for us to help and advise people on their overall financial wellness. Goodwill’s MoneyWorks financial services can help people achieve their financial goals, such as owning their own home or getting out of debt.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me at (231) 722-7871, ext.1071 clewis@goodwillwm.org

For more information on VITA, including a list of tax site locations and hours, visit www.vitawestmichigan.org

Opportunity knocks … but sometimes it rolls

By Amanda Grover, Career Supports Manager

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One thing that can be consistently changing is a person’s financial situation. Managing your money, planning for the future, and identifying resources is incredibly daunting. Money doesn’t need to be a taboo subject; and I personally have found incredible value in financially planning ahead for emergencies and reaching longer term goals. There was nothing more fulfilling than paying off my first car loan.

Luckily, there are resources available right here in our community and it’s exciting to be a part of the Fifth-Third Financial Empowerment “eBus” event here at the Goodwill Career Center on Wednesday, July 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Everyone’s invited!

This 40-foot bus is a mobile classroom equipped with workstations and friendly Fifth Third Bank staff ready to connect people with the financial tools they need. After traveling to many communities throughout the country, the Fifth Third eBus staff have a strong understanding of what individuals need and want from banks and financial institutions.

Just inside the Career Center, we will be hosting a Goodwill Financial Fair. There will be other community partner organizations on site to share vocational and education programs, and to help identify ways to increase income through employment. There will also be programs to help people with goals and issues related to home ownership and housing. Additionally, for those looking for more immediate employment, GoodTemps Staffing will be conducting open job interviews.

I’ve had lots of people come to me with great stories that have been a result of attending previous financial events. Personal stories such as gaining access to a bank account for the first time (in some cases after being repeatedly denied), enrolling in vocational programs that have increased their income, learning that earning a degree or owning their own home is possible, overcoming difficult debt struggles, and more … prove these events can be life changing.

It’s exciting to work with so many community partners and to see support from organizations all working to help people achieve their personal goals. Come join us and tell anyone you know who could benefit from these services!

The Goodwill Career Center is located at 271 East Apple Avenue in Muskegon. We are around the corner from Goodwill Headquarters. The entrance and parking lot are located off of Sophia Street.

Gearing up for tax season

By Carl Lewis, Tax Program Coordinator

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ach tax season brings a great opportunity to assist more people in the community. As the new Tax Program Coordinator at Goodwill, I am excited to be a part of this positive impact.

I have several years of volunteer experience with Goodwill’s free tax preparation program, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). It has always been a pleasure to work with people and assist them. In my former position as a financial coach, I found that tax time is the perfect opportunity to help people get back on track with their finances. The lump sum of money a person receives from a return, allows me a chance to identify an individual’s financial goals and help to achieve them.

I have a strong appreciation for the education the free tax preparation program provides, and it has been a pleasure to train and work with others. It is satisfying to share my knowledge and know that I am helping others learn a valuable life-long skill. All of our volunteers providing tax assistance are certified by the IRS.

With constant changes occurring on a state and national level, people requesting assistance have access to capable volunteers who can provide the answers. Changes with the healthcare system and the Affordable Care Act have caused great concern. We like to utilize the tax program as a platform to help clarify the impact of insurance on tax returns as well as provide information on resources. Filers also often have questions about the numerous forms, the legal requirements of filing, exemptions they are eligible for, and more. We can help!

There has always been a passion for volunteerism and community in my life. I am excited for this new endeavor as a leader with this program. I am looking forward to a robust tax season and helping individuals and families receive the funds they are entitled to.

If you are interested in getting help with your taxes, learning about our service offerings and eligibility requirements, or want to find out where and when services are offered, please visit our all-in-one website: www.vitawestmichigan.org or call 2-1-1 to schedule an appointment.

If you earned less than $62,000 last year, and would like to file on your own, visit www.myfreetaxes.com and file for free using easy, safe, and secure software provided by H&R Block.