United Way’s Erie FREE Taxes (EFT) just closed out the 2023 tax season with the help of 22 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site coordinators and 117 volunteers at 19 locations across Erie County. EFT volunteer tax preparers are responsible for returning $119 million in federal refunds while saving filers an estimated $17.9 million in commercial tax preparation fees since 2007, making the total program value more than $136 million. EFT could not happen without the dedication of EFT program director, Marybelle Martin and tax preparers across Erie County.
A VITA site using trained and certified high school students was launched three years ago at Fairview High School (FHS) by Fairview Business Academy (FBA) advisor Matt Greene. Matt heard of the VITA program, thought it would be an excellent learning experience for his FBA students and contacted IRS Senior Stakeholder Relationship Tax Consultant Kermit Butcher for assistance. Together, Matt and Kermit were able to implement the first ever VITA site located at a high school and operated by students in the state of Pennsylvania.
One of those high school students is senior Charlie Chevalier. As a member of FBA Charlie wanted to gain more experience in high school beyond the classroom, so he took the next step and became an EFT volunteer.
“Mr. Greene asked me about working with EFT and I was really excited because I would be able to gain experience and learn if taxes and accounting were something I wanted to do in the future and I was able to help my community at the same time,” said Charlie.
To begin, like any EFT volunteer, Charlie had to pass multiple IRS exams in order to become a certified volunteer. With this rigorous certification process comes credible and reliable EFT volunteers like Charlie. In the three years that FHS has been a site the students' returns have been consistently accepted by the IRS, proving they know what they are doing.
Charlie shared, “My favorite part of EFT has been helping my community. Some people aren’t familiar with how to file their taxes and it can be a very stressful process. All of my clients are very kind and I can tell that they are so happy to have something that can be so stressful done so easily. Also, most of the returns I do are refunds and I know that that money is going back to a person in my community.”
It takes volunteers like Charlie to keep EFT and our community thriving. Although Charlie will be graduating this year, his service and commitment to the community has only just begun. After graduation, Charlie will attend the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, on a four-year scholarship studying finance. He plans to take his EFT experience both into the classroom and out into the field as a VITA volunteer on campus and as a cadet with the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps. Good luck Charlie!
Thanks to Charlie and all of our EFT volunteers!