Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=178557
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 9:34:31 PM CST
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Since 1994, the Center for Economic Progress, a Chicago non-profit organization, has been providing free tax preparation services to low-income families at 11 Chicago sites and 28 in total throughout Illinois. Professionally trained volunteers help families earning an annual income of $50,000 and individuals earning $25,000 or less file their taxes on computers at the sites.
The Center for Economic Progress said that last year its tax preparation sites statewide resulted in refunds totalling $54.2 million and saved taxpayers $6 million in preparation fees.
The Auburn Gresham site accounted for 5 percent of that.
Pam Wafford, the non-profit organization’s site manager, said as of last week volunteers helped file 455 tax returns.
If the trend continues, Wafford predicted that volunteers will file 50 tax returns a day.
Ernest Sanders, program manager at the corporation, said the community’s volunteer tax preparers have exhibited extraordinary commitment to helping: “One time 35 [volunteer tax preparers] stayed here until [midnight],” Sanders said.
Despite the enthusiasm, Sanders said, “There are not enough volunteers."
He added that balancing the primary interests of taxpayers and preparers has been challenging.
“Sometimes the taxpayers don’t understand that volunteers have a family to go home to,” he said.
The volume is explainable in part because the next-closest tax preparation site at 62nd Street and Cottage Grove, shut down after last year’s tax season, Wafford said. “Because that has closed, this is the first year that clients from there can come here."
But Sanders said the larger turnout of low-income taxpayers is due to the corporation's extensive advertising in the community. And Chicago radio station Power 92 provides free advertising for the program.
Regardless of where they are from, people who have had the service, Wafford said, are appreciative.
“I could be in the South Side or in Evanston and people will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you look awfully familiar,” she said. Once they make the connection, she added, they thank her.
The Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp.’s Executive Director Carlos Nelson lives a stone's throw away from the building. He often greets participants in the free tax preparation program.
Nelson said he and his employees use “guerrilla marketing” to advertise.
Sometimes it’s an all-day affair, but Nelson said it is worth it.
“So we have guys going door to door with flyers all the time, advertising not only our tax site, but each initiative and event that we do,” he said.