Brownsville ISD, United Way recognize Porter’s VITA student tax preparersdfwnewsa | February 1, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News
Just a couple days after the 2024 tax-filing season began, a few pioneers of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at Porter Early College High School were recognized in an event Wednesday afternoon in the Porter auditorium.
Every year since the 2009 tax-filing season, Porter has fielded a group of IRS-certified tax-preparation student volunteers who help people file their taxes, officials from the program at Porter and from a wider effort run by the United Way of Southern Cameron County said during the event.
Since 2009, the program has expanded to all six of the Brownsville Independent School District’s full-service high schools plus Brownsville Early College High School, Michelle Solis, a business teacher at Porter who took over the program in 2019, said.
Alberto Velez started VITA tax preparation as part of a Business Professionals of America student club in 2009. Back then, 14 student volunteers got trained on Saturdays and received IRS certification to do people’s taxes for the 2008 filing year.
That first year the VITA team, completed 103 tax returns, injecting $256,232 back into the community. The program has since transitioned under Solis’ stewardship, with 15 volunteers filing 89 tax returns and contributing $123,125 to the local economy in tax year 2022, BISD said in a news release about the event.
The free service has saved taxpayers who used it many thousands of dollars in fees they otherwise would have had to pay to professional tax preparers, IRS and United Way officials said at the event.
The program also has resulted in millions of dollars from taxes prepared at Porter and across Cameron County going back to taxpayers in the form of tax refunds that included Earned Income Credit and Child Tax Credit refunds to which the taxpayers were entitled but otherwise might not have known about, said Laura Martinez, an IRS employee from San Antonio whose job is to promote VITA programs in communities like Brownsville across the Southwestern United States.
A military veteran who served in South Korea, Martinez and Maria Bustamante, also an IRS employee originally from El Paso, traveled to Brownsville for the Porter event.
They said the Internal Revenue Service started the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, 45 years ago to help volunteers like the ones at United Way learn how to prepare taxes for community members for free.
The basic income guideline is an adjusted gross income of $64,000.
The program is based out of United Way of Southern Cameron County offices at 634 E. Levee St, (956) 548-6880, at sites around Brownsville including BISD high schools, at Texas Southmost College’s ITECC Center in the former Amigoland Mall at 301 Mexico Blvd. and other locations. Most locations require an appointment.
BISD said the VITA program at Porter and other schools has become more than just a tax preparation service. It is an educational hub where students learn intricate tax preparation skills, client relations, appointment scheduling, and other essential soft skills.
Solis said she is grateful for the opportunity to offer the tax-preparation training to students.
“Not only do they get this life-long skill, but they also get the chance to help out the community in preparing their taxes for free. We live in an area where many families are living pay check to pay check and having these services available to them on campus has helped them tremendously. Our students have learned many necessary skills such as tax laws, business clerical skills and customer service that will help them forever,” Solis said.
The event itself was evidence of that dynamic. Miriam Mares, marketing coordinator for the United Way of Southern Cameron County, was a senior at Porter in 2009 and one of Velez’s students. She joined the BPA club and learned how to do taxes after school.
She and Velez met up at the event in a reunion of sorts.
Velez stepped away from teaching at Porter in 2019 and now is a special education teacher in the Triple-T program at Lincoln Park School, where developmentally challenged students learn work ethics, including skills like showing up to work on time, as they transition into life after high school.
Velez said he and some friends came up with the idea of teaching high school students how to do taxes as a service to the community while having pizza one night at Gio’s Villa Italian Restaurant on Central Boulevard in Brownsville.
A graduate of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Velez already had a background in tax preparation, was always interested in accounting and by that time had learned the ropes by working one tax season at H&R Block.
He said other students besides just Mares have gone on prove their mettle after graduating from Porter, becoming lawyers and CPAs among other professions.
By now, Velez has his own franchise of a tax preparation company that does returns in Spanish called ToroTaxes.com
On his business card he bills himself as a tax professional, life and health insurance agent, small business consultant and notary public.
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