March 6, 2016
By Anna Burgess
Sentinel & Enterprise
FITCHBURG — Emily Fernandez may not have graduated from high school yet, but she can do your taxes — and she’ll do them for free.
Fernandez, a junior at Monty Tech, offers low- and moderate-income area residents free preparation and filing of their tax returns as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program through the Montachusett Opportunity Council.
MOC has operated the VITA program for more than 10 years, assisting anyone with an income of less than $54,000 and anyone eligible to receive tax refunds from the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Since Feb. 2, more than 20 trained volunteers have been working from MOC’s headquarters at 133 Prichard St. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, providing free preparation and filing assistance on both state and federal returns.
Many volunteers are peer educators from the MOC Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, members of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, and Fitchburg State University students. They are all trained and certified in IRS Standards of Conduct.
According to Mason Klinck, head of the MOC VITA program, “the beauty of it is the volunteers help the community, so they can feel good about that, and they get very real-world experience by doing people’s taxes.”
Fernandez, a MOC peer educator, said she has filed tax returns for about 10 people in the past month.
“At first, I didn’t realize it was totally free,” she said. “It’s really cool, because sometimes you’d pay several hundred dollars to do your taxes.
I like helping out.”
Laura Jenny, a Leominster High School junior and member of the Boys & Girls Club, said she was certified as an intake specialist because she “wanted to give back to the club and to the community.”
“A lot of people don’t know much about their taxes,” Jenny said, “and there are not many places you can turn to for free.”
Many taxpayers cannot afford to pay the cost of preparing a simple tax return; additionally, many may be unaware they are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which puts money back into their pockets as well as into the communities in which they live and work.
Last tax season, MOC assisted with 216 tax returns. A total of $438,669 in tax credits came back to the North Central Massachusetts region, including more than $190,000 in EITCs.
This year, Klinck said 10 and 20 people have been helped each day of the program, for a total of about 250 people so far.
The program runs through April 9, so there’s no doubt that they’ll greatly exceed the number of people assisted last year.
“I would like to see that just increase every year,” Klinck said. “See the program continue to expand.”