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Pictured, from right to left, are Dwayne Riley, Kenzie Leonard, Jeremiah Jeffries, Savannah Lashmit, Alecsis Butler and Madolyn Long. (Photos courtesy Christy Dean)

Upshur County high schoolers aim to empower community by offering free tax filing services

Editor’s note: Since this article was first published, the first day of tax return preparation services has changed to Monday, Jan. 29. Residents interested in this service may call 304-472-3720, ext. 5411, to schedule an appointment.

TENNERTON — For over 50 years, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program has proudly assisted individuals facing financial constraints during tax season.

Christy Dean, a finance teacher at Buckhannon-Upshur High School and her compassionate students are actively involved in this cause, offering free tax services to qualifying individuals as part of the VITA tax program.

Although the VITA program initially announced it would focus on aiding three specific groups — those earning $60,000 or less annually, persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers — students have since decided to expand their reach.

“Students felt that we could open the program to help more students and families, so this year, we will have more students available to process more advanced returns,” Dean said.

She views the service opportunity for her students to make a meaningful impact on local residents.

“Students want their learning to be something they will use; my courses fall into that category,” Dean said. “My courses can help them learn steps to making those ideas a reality.”

One of Dean’s students, Madolyn Long, shed light on the process.

“The way that we do it is we have to go and certify through the IRS, and then the main point is just bringing in low-income community members so that we can turn their situation around and help them do their taxes for free,” she said.

The tax-law certification process ensures that the students are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complexities of tax preparation, providing accurate and valuable assistance to those in need.

Beyond the technicalities of tax preparation, the experience has proven to be transformative for the students, they said.

“It’s really cool because we get to build connections between us and people that we wouldn’t typically have the ability to meet in our daily lives,” Long said. “Most of them are elderly or disabled and very working-class people. It’s very unique that we, as West Virginian students, have the ability to meet these people and assist them in their lives in this minor way.”

Community members who wish to get information about having their taxes prepared for FREE through the VITA program at B-UHS can call 304-472-3720, ext. 5411. Please note that students will not begin preparing tax returns until Jan. 29, 2024. However, residents are encouraged to call the above-listed number to schedule an appointment.

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