Volunteers help seniors, lower income residents file taxesPublished Apr 17, 2013 at 10:56 am (Updated Apr 17, 2013 at 10:56 am)
VITA volunteers helping a tax payer with a question on her tax returns during the final day income taxes were due April 15 were Bernie Grimes of Peters Township and Ray Fretterd of Mt. Lebanon. VITA, volunteer income tax assistance, provides free tax preparation to those often unable to pay.
Photo by Terri Johnson/Staff
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Angie Dietrick worked as a secretary for her husband’s company for a number of years and after retirement, she decided she needed something to do with her time. That’s when she learned of VITA and offered her skills. That was 32 years ago, and she’s still giving freely of her time five days a week for about six hours a day from Feb. 1 to April 15 each year. She’s now the coordinator of the location at The Bible Chapel in Peters Township, and still acts as a tax preparer when needed.
“We don’t do real complex taxes,” she said a few minutes after the final client walked through the doors, 10 hours before the taxes were to be filed at the deadline. “We mainly do the taxes for those who can’t afford to be taken care of someplace else.”
But, according to Bernie Grimes of Peters Township, a preparer and recruiter for the past decade, a majority of those using the free service used to be senior citizens. Now, it’s mainly those who are unable to afford a paid accountant.
“We’re the largest site in Western Pennsylvania,” he said of the 10 or so sites. “And we have the lowest error rate.”
As a recruiter, Grimes is looking for more preparers for the 2013 tax season.
Dietrick said even after 32 years, she is required to take a refresher course each tax season. New recruits must take the full course, so contacting Grimes as soon as possible is essential. He may be reached to learn more information about volunteering by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re all getting older and we need recruits,” Deitrick said.
Numerous taxpayers return year after year to have the VITA volunteers prepare their tax forms, like Jean Evans of South Park Township. She has been a client since her husband died in 1981. Her daughter, Susan Evans, has been an annual client since she was 16 years old. She turned 40 on April 16, and was there to pick up her forms April 15.
Each form is checked by another preparer.
“I like the personal feeling and that it’s checked by a back-up person,” Evans added.
For Ray Fretterd, electronic filing is his area of expertise. A retired engineer, Fretterd files, on average, 22 to 55 forms each day. Most years, the total number filed is 2,000. He’s been volunteering since retiring in 2006 when his wife was taking an aqua aerobics class with Grimes’ wife and learned of the need for volunteers.
April 15 may end tax season for another year, but Fretterd said April 16 was spent tearing down the preparation site and waiting for the Internal Revenue Service to pick up computers. He is also in charge of the annual celebration held by the volunteers. Yes, he did get his return in on time.
“I filed it over the weekend,” Fretterd said.
Thanks to Rosa Guzman of McMurray, the local site has the added benefit of a translator. Originally from Mexico City, Guzman said she wanted to volunteer when her two children were in school and the VITA organization was the perfect opportunity. She volunteered two days a week this past tax season and plans on returning for the 2013 tax year. Occasionally, a client who works in the United States on a green card walks in for help and needs assistance with the language difference.
“I really learned a lot from (the clients). Yes, I filed our taxes as my husband doesn’t know anything about taxes in the U.S.,” she said with a laugh.