Free tax assistance at Forest Park High

One of only 3 high school locations in Georgia

Special Photo
Accounting students at Forest Park High School are preparing taxes, free of charge, through the VITA program. Forest Park is one of only three high schools in the state serving as a VITA site.

Special Photo Accounting students at Forest Park High School are preparing taxes, free of charge, through the VITA program. Forest Park is one of only three high schools in the state serving as a VITA site.

Local high school students are currently serving as tax preparers for qualified individuals, free of charge. Accounting students at Forest Park High School have been trained, and certified, for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program of the Internal Revenue Service, said Nardina Turner, environmental scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is the high school’s first year as a VITA site, she added.

Turner said her connection to VITA and Forest Park was her participation in the Atlanta Federal Executive Board’s Leadership Government program, last year. The group, which includes other federal professionals, worked together on a project aimed at opening a VITA high school site in Clayton County, Turner said. The task was fulfilled through a partnership with VITA.

“In addition to providing a valuable community service, students practice customer-service skills, and have an opportunity to apply classroom concepts to real-world tasks,” she said.

Turner said VITA is a free tax assistance program for people who had an annual income of less than $50,000 last year. An individual may also qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit if he, or she, earned less than $43,998 in 2011. For a married couple, the figure is less than $49,078 last year, said Turner.

Individuals, who qualify, should bring items such as a valid photo identification, social security cards for all family members, and 2011 W-2 forms. The high school, located at 5452 Phillips Drive in Forest Park, will provide this program until April 15, Turner said.

It will be available Mondays, from 5 p.m., to 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 11, Feb. 25, March 10, March 24, and April 14, from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m. Turner said that during the last week of filing season, the high school will also be open weekdays, April 9-13, from 5 p.m., to 7:30 p.m. The site will be closed on Feb. 20 and April 2, she added.

Forest Park is one of three VITA high school locations in Georgia, and one of 60 in the nation, Turner said. The other two Georgia high schools are Newton High School, and R.L. Osborne High School, she said.

Debra Collins, accounting instructor at Forest Park, said she is proud her students are able to participate in the tax-preparers program. “I think it is excellent for our students to learn how to do taxes for their personal benefit, and for their careers,” Collins said. The educator said preparing taxes is part of the curriculum for her students.

She said 13 students are certified by VITA as basic tax preparers, and more than half are 12th-graders. Students who participate receive class credit and community service hours, she pointed out. They also show an interest in a career in business, she added.

Kimberly Lovett, relationship manager at the IRS, said she is excited for the students, because they’re gaining valuable experience, and are contributing to their community. “I am very ecstatic to have them on board,” she said.

Elsewhere in the Southern Crescent area, Clayton State University is the only university in Georgia that has served as a site for 22 consecutive years for the VITA program, said Judith Ogden, a faculty member of the university’s College of Business.

The university’s accounting students have been trained to prepare taxes as well, she said.

CSU Spokesman John Shiffert said the services at Clayton State will be offered in the College of Business, at 2000 Clayton State Blvd., in Morrow. Times are from 9 a.m., to 1 p.m., on Feb. 11, Feb. 18, Feb. 25, March 17, March 24 and March 31, he said.

For more information about VITA and Forest Park High School, contact Debra Collins at (404) 608-2553. For more information about VITA and Clayton State University, call (678) 466-4527.