Since 2013, United Way Suncoast has partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties during the tax season to designate the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site for its Free Tax Preparation Program. The Free Tax Preparation Program connects low-income residents in the Suncoast Region with IRS-certified volunteers who file their tax returns at no cost. This year, the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club was the highest volume VITA site in the area, serving 445 working families and securing $664,000 in tax refunds by accurately preparing and e-filing tax returns.
“Sarasota working families use their tax refunds for things like child care, paying down debt and saving for their child’s education. Our volunteers can ensure families get every tax credit they deserve, like the Earned Income Credit, and that they avoid the high fees associated with many paid-preparers. Offering free, high-quality tax preparation at a familiar, trusted community partner like Boys & Girls Club just makes sense,” said Mireya Eavey, United Way Suncoast Sarasota Area President.
The Free Tax Preparation Program at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club provided nine volunteers on Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteer Site Coordinator George Davis and his team of volunteers would often stay later than the regularly scheduled operating hours to continue to help the high number of individuals coming in for tax preparation service.
“Using your knowledge to help hardworking people save hundreds of dollars and get the refund they deserve is incredibly gratifying. I really enjoy this work,” said George Davis, who volunteers fifteen hours a week during tax season for United Way Suncoast.
The program has significantly grown since the partnership was established three years ago. From 2015 to 2016, the site increased the number of low-income residents served from 322 to 445, which represents a 38 percent increase. The majority of those served this year came from households with an annual income below $30,000.
“I’m so happy to have United Way here at the Boys & Girls Club to help me do my taxes. I saved so much money this year, and got thousands more back than I thought. This will really help when it comes to paying bills, and whatever is leftover I’m saving for my kids. I have a daughter in college and a grandson at home to take care of, and I’m between jobs. Without the Earned Income Credit, I’m not sure how I’d make ends meet,” said Vanessa Monix, a tax client at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club on the last Saturday of tax season.
Volunteer Site Coordinator George Davis (right) has provided tax preparation service at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club for three years.
The cost of paying a for-profit business to file taxes continues to increase, with many filers paying more than $200—money that can go towards a grocery trip or utility bill. In fact, the Free Tax Preparation Program saved the residents served at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club a total of $89,000 this year.
“We continue to partner with United Way Suncoast year after year because the Free Tax Preparation Program keeps hard-earned dollars in the pockets of working families in our community who need financial assistance the most,” said Bill Sadlo, President/CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties.
The Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club is an ideal location to host this program because of its ample space available during the day while the Club members served are in school. The Club is also centrally located at 3100 Fruitville Road in Sarasota where volunteers can access computer labs and additional space for further consultation and financial literacy opportunities.
“Children thrive in financially stable families. Community partnerships that focus on two generations, like our Free Tax Preparation Program at Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club, are an important step towards breaking the generational cycle of poverty,” said Eavey.