Campaign extends a hand to county taxpayers


David Bungart, maintenance supervisor at Eden Park at Ironwood apartments, had his taxes prepared last year by the Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign. This year, organizers also are offering free financial literacy workshops.
MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/Special to the Guardian

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 2:48 p.m.
An Alachua County program is taking some of the hassles of the tax season away from residents by offering free tax preparation services to those with low to moderate incomes.
This is the Heart of Florida Prosperity campaign's third consecutive year providing this service as a way to bring more money into taxpayers' pockets, therefore benefitting the community at large.
The campaign, chaired by Odetta MacLeish-White, has trained volunteers to prepare taxes, seeking to make sure families receive all the income tax credits they may be eligible for, including credits for earned income and child care.
But volunteers still are needed to efficiently provide service to clients at two locations in Gainesville.
According to Michelle Sherfield, the program's volunteer trainer coordinator, those interested in performing tax preparation must undergo 11 hours of training. Sessions will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14. Volunteers must attend both sessions.
For the first time since the program was launched, financial literacy workshops are being conducted to encourage taxpayers to invest their refunds wisely. Workshops are available on request to anyone in the community. All that is needed is a minimum of 10 participants.
This tax season, taxes will be prepared at two locations in Gainesville beginning Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Currently, 10 volunteers have been trained to prepare taxes at Northgate Shopping Center at 1130 NE 16th Ave. and at Eden Park at Ironwood at 1330 NE 39th Ave.
The hours of operation at Northgate will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. At Eden Park, services will be offered from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, and also by appointment only on the first and third Saturday of each month until April 15.
Those having their taxes done must bring a driver's license or state of Florida ID, W-2 forms from employers, a Social Security card and those of dependents, or a printout of dependents' Social Security numbers from the Social Security office only.
David Bungart, a recipient of free tax preparation in 2005, said the organization's tax preparers did a great job and he received a pretty decent refund and feels he benefited because other businesses charge high fees for tax preparation.
Seeing over $8 million in earned income tax credits go unclaimed in 2002 in Alachua County set the Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign into motion.
"We were struck by that large amount of money going unclaimed and decided to play our part in getting this money into families' pockets and give them information on how to handle their financial life,'' said MacLeish-White. "Imagine all that money coming to this community and back into people's pockets. You can reclaim up to three years of back taxes. This could mean up to $12,000 for some families. We can help them access that."
Families are encouraged to use the extra money to open up checking and/or savings accounts or to improve their financial standing.
"Having a budget gives people a sense of control over their lives. We are using this as a mechanism for teaching people to handle the resources they have," MacLeish-White said.
For more information on tax preparation at Eden Park, call Kristin Jackson at (352) 379-7772. For more information about tax preparation at Northgate Shopping Center or to volunteer, call Michelle Sherfield at (352) 284-6254.
Teresa D. Southern can be reached at (352) 337-0373 or at southet@gvilleguardian.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top