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Manager's Message

Posted on: January 18, 2024

A Public Service Profile for Making Taxes Less Taxing

By Chris Coudriet, County Manager

The spirit of volunteerism is important to so many organizations throughout our county. The ideal of giving back in service to others is a principle we should all strive to make a part of our lifestyle, as it connects us to each other and makes our community a better place for all.

For more than four decades, individuals willing to give their time have been the reason the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program has been so successful here in New Hanover County. Each year, community members volunteer their time to undergo IRS-approved training in preparation for this work, allowing them to help others with simple tax preparation. This service is provided free of charge, and last year alone, these volunteers prepared and filed more than 2,300 tax returns, marking an 11 percent increase from 2022.

Coordinating this program is no small task, as it takes a variety of people working at multiple locations to make this all possible. For this month’s Public Service Profile, I spoke with Cully Shelton, our Human Services Program Manager at the Senior Resource Center, as his tireless efforts to coordinate this endeavor, and so many other volunteer programs, are crucial to their success. That conversation is below …

Cully Shelton photoIt’s a word that gets said a lot when we talk about the VITA Program because it’s literally in the name, but I want to stress it one more time – volunteers. Everything you all are doing related to tax preparation, at no cost to our citizens, centers around the work of these dedicated individuals, starting with training as early as December through the tax deadline on April 15. You’ve been working with the program for several years now, tell me a little about the commitment you’ve seen from those who make this program possible. 

The VITA program would simply not exist without the dedication of our AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers. These passionate individuals, age 55 and older, are a wealth of knowledge. Our VITA program within New Hanover County started in 1978, so this year we will be celebrating our 46th tax season. Some of our certified tax preparers have been volunteering with the program for 30-plus years. Regardless of their professional background, they are committed to serving their community and simply want to help make the tax return process less stressful. Whereas most people dread the idea of taxes, our volunteers look forward to the start of the season. I think this enthusiasm speaks for itself. 

This is a program that certainly helps a lot of people in our community each year, but unfortunately it can’t accommodate everyone because there are so many different types of taxes that people need to have filed. If you don’t mind, give us a rundown of what people should expect if they are going to use the VITA program, who is eligible for this service and how the process works. 

The VITA program offers a free, reliable and trusted source for basic tax return preparation. Eligibility is not based on geographic location, so we also serve clients who live outside of New Hanover County. Anyone regardless of their age can participate in the program. Qualifying individuals generally have low- and moderate-income levels. We will be preparing tax returns in two ways this year in New Hanover County. Regardless of the tax preparation method you choose, you will need to bring a photo ID and proof of Social Security number for each person on the tax return. You start the process by picking up a tax preparation packet from the Senior Resource Center and complete the paperwork in advance. The first option is face-to-face where we will prepare your return while you are present. This process will occur at both our Senior Resource Center and Carolina Beach location. No appointment is necessary for face-to-face, but the number of face-to-face returns we do in each day may be limited. The second option is drop-off where you will drop off your tax documents by appointment and this process only occurs at the Senior Resource Center. Then, when instructed, you return to pick up your completed tax return and sign an authorization form that allows us to electronically file your returns. Appointments for drop-off can be made at the Senior Resource Center website or by calling 910-798-6416. 

As part of your role with the Senior Resource Center, you oversee the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). These individuals give so much of their time to help others in our community through so many programs. Give us some insight on the opportunities that are available for those out there thinking about a new year’s resolution or looking for a way to give back. 

Our program is grant-funded through AmeriCorps Seniors and sponsored by New Hanover County, so we provide meaningful volunteer opportunities for adults 55 and over. We are here to find you the right opportunity for your passions, skills, interests, and schedule. We will conduct one-on-one interviews to help match individuals with volunteer opportunities in New Hanover County. Volunteers can give their time to one partnering location, or many. Among the many opportunities we have tour guides, meal delivery drivers, telephone companions, driving services, and health insurance counselors. The choice is yours! Volunteer training and the length of training is specific to the volunteer location(s) and depends on the volunteer position. We hope you’ll stop by the Senior Resource Center to learn more and speak with our team.

The VITA and RSVP programs are two volunteer-driven resources so many in our community rely on, and it’s a success because of people like Cully. We are truly grateful to have his leadership guiding this amazing army of volunteers. It is truly remarkable to see them in action.

You can learn more by visiting the VITA Program page on the Senior Resource Center website. You can also learn about volunteering through RSVP and other programs by checking out the Volunteer page at the Senior Resource Center website.

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