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The search for volunteers is again under way for the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

Volunteer tax preparers, interpreters and greeters are needed at all the VITA sites, which includes Lehigh Community Services, during the 2021 tax season. VITA sites, which are equipped with trained, IRS-certified volunteers, provide free tax preparation to individuals and families earning less than $66,000 per year.

United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Volunteer Engagement Manager Mary Meador said she usually has around 20 volunteers in Lehigh.

“We are a very busy site as Lehigh is so large,” she said. “I have always had space to add more appointments if I had more volunteers. I would like 25 to 30 volunteers this year.”

Bilingual Spanish speakers are needed. Volunteers of all ages and levels of experience are welcome. Although it is not preferred, volunteers who are comfortable working on a computer are also needed. There are many flexible hours available January through April for volunteers.

“Most of our training will be virtual this year, but there will be several in person classes in Fort Myers for those who want, or need in person training,” Meador said. “The full schedule isn’t set in stone yet, but my first in person training will be Nov. 14.”

The specialized IRS certified training will include how to prepare basic tax turns, using online tax preparation software, tax deductions and earned income tax credits that benefit eligible taxpayers. There is also continued education credits for experienced agents, certified financial planners and non-credentialed tax return prepares when volunteering as a VITA tax preparer.

“Dedicated and passionate volunteers are the key to the success of the United Way VITA program. VITA volunteers not only make a financial, but also a social impact in the lives of people in our community,” Volunteer Center Director Patrice Cunningham said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to offer virtual training opportunities this year, allowing us to expand and offer additional support for new and returning volunteers.”

Although there is no deadline to sign up as a VITA volunteer, Meador said it is better to sign up earlier, so individuals have time to become familiar with the material and software.

“We won’t turn any late comers away,” she said. “We have had people sign up in late January and still volunteer, but they had to do the training and certifying all on their own, as the classes were over and we were already in season.”

With services being suspended for six weeks due to COVID-19, and the due date for taxes being extended, United Way’s VITA volunteers helped 1,093 individuals and families with free tax assistance totaling approximately $1.6 million in tax refunds last year. There were also 23 volunteers trained and certified in partnership with the IRS at the Lehigh Acres site for the 2020 tax season.

For more information contact Meador at [email protected], call (239) 433-7206, or register online at www.unitedwaylee.org/become-vita-volunteer/.

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