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Opinion: Learning about taxes, and about life

“I was offered the opportunity to learn more about the American tax system while volunteering in my local community as a VITA intern for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. As a local anti-poverty agency, CVOEO acts as an incredible resource for Vermonters with low income. Having the ability to work with members of the local community was my favorite part of the internship. 
“I am not a native Vermont resident and therefore sometimes I feel disconnected from the Burlington community. UVM creates a bubble that students often don’t get the opportunity to venture from. I had clients from all over the Chittenden community and beyond.
“Every individual had a unique story and situation. I completed a tax return for the crossing guard I walk by every day on my way home, the Price Chopper clerk who served me at the register last week and a UVM construction worker. I had clients who had been in jail, some that were refugees and many who received government aid. They entrusted me with a lot of personal information that I took non-biasedly and confidentially.”
 – One of CVOEO’s UVM interns.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax help to eligible people who make $54,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to eligible individuals in our communities. They inform taxpayers about special tax credits such as Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. 
In Addison County the first step to accessing this service is to call Debbie Goodrich in the Addison Community Action Office at 388-2285 extension 203. Debbie is currently making appointments. Information and documentation gathering ensures an accurate income tax submission. When you call to make an appointment Debbie will tell you what to bring and who needs to be present.
Another way to access free tax assistance for anyone earning $62,000 or less is an online service provided through United Way found at MyFreeTaxes.com. In past years 70 percent of the people using this program completed their taxes in under one hour.
“Working for CVOEO was incredibly eye-opening.  It made me challenge the unfounded stereotypes I had previously held and become a more compassionate person. If more people were to participate in a similar program, it is without question that many prejudices could be dismantled. The topic of welfare and disability income has becomes a well-debated topic in American politics. Some associate the acceptance of government aid with laziness and ridicule the system for aiding citizens in their idleness. After an internship in my position; however, it would near impossible to hold that perspective.” 
CVOEO offices in Middlebury, Burlington and St. Albans can make paying your taxes or accessing a refund much easier. Earned Income Tax Credit refund and other refunds mean that past bills can be paid and stability is more certain. 
Jan F. Demers is the Executive Director of CVOEO.

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