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Catholic Charities works to help with tax season

This article was written by Marcus Clem and first published in the Atchison Globe.

Tax season is stressful for some, but Jason Chen has the best of three worlds in offering his services as a volunteer accountant to Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.

First, he gets to wax the amount of exposure and resume-qualifying experience handling real peoples’ finances and providing real advice to those who might not otherwise be able to access such services. Second, he gets to do something important and meaningful to him. And third, he gets to set a higher standard for his profession.

“Most of our low-income clients have really minimal tax knowledge,” he said in a Monday, March 12, phone interview. “They don’t know how to do their taxes, so they can get taken advantage of. I’m glad to provide this free service, while at the same time helping people get the best income they can get, while doing the job I want to do.”

In working for Catholic Charities, 502 Kansas Ave, Chen contributes to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service.

According to Amelia Reyes, director of asset development for Catholic Charities, any household that brings home less than $64,000 combined among all members can get their taxes done for free.

“A lot of these folks have very complicated taxes, large refunds,” Reyes said from her office in Overland Park in a March 12 phone interview. “It’s essential to get this done correctly for them, because every dollar of that counts.”

Predatory tax preparers, who might offer someone $800 so they can pay the bills due tomorrow in order to pocket a $2,000 refund the IRS will send later are a serious problem, said Suzanne Evans, lead program specialist in Atchison.

Giving access to all of that money with the help of a hands-on expert without charge makes a difference for people from all walks of life, Evans said in a Monday interview.

“The beauty of the program is that there is no one person,” she said. “We have people who are on Social Security, people who work at Benedictine College, single moms, retirees, we have a variety of people and it’s really a blessing to be able to partner with these volunteers.”

Chen, a BC alumnus in accounting who is now studying to obtain his MBA and Eddie Kodet, an undergraduate accounting student, and others like them are benefiting themselves and their community by helping Catholic Charities, Evans said. “They are providing a service to their neighbors, gaining experience and interacting with real customers,” she said.

Reyes said Catholic Charities is grateful to have assistance from BC students.

“We really sought this kind of partnership when we started offering VITA in Atchison,” she said. “We reached out to the community and Benedictine stepped up. They’re obviously a Catholic college, so it works as a partnership. It’s a good way to encourage a younger generation to help out and become qualified volunteers for us.”

For more information, call the Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas headquarters, 9720 W. 87th St. in Overland Park, at 913-433-2100. The organization is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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