VITA

Camryn Gilmore, left, fills out some forms Wednesday as his grandmother, Joann Cruz, looks on while at the VITA site in the Heart of Texas Goodwill Job Connections in Belton.

Debbie Shiller, site coordinator at the Goodwill VITA site in Belton, said every person who shows up to visit with a tax preparer has a story — some are pretty typical, others not typical at all.

VITA is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program sponsored locally for a number of years by the United Way of Central Texas.

Tax preparers will complete the tax returns for free for households whose income is $55,000 or less a year.

Shiller, who worked in technology for the Killeen school district before she retired, isn’t an accountant but said she had no difficulty with the training VITA requires of its volunteer.

“I enjoy it a lot,” she said. “It can be interesting.”

On Wednesday, Camryn Gilmore of Belton came in with his grandmother Joann Cruz.

Two days after turning 18, Camryn, a Belton High graduate, went to Winstar Casino in Oklahoma. He did rather well, bringing home several thousand dollars, though he did end up abandoning a slot machine at the casino that paid out about $100,000 shortly after he walked away.

Cruz said she has gone to the casinos for years and her grandson, who had been hearing about her trips, wanted to take his chances on leaving Oklahoma with some money.

“I told him it’s a fun trip, but don’t count on coming out ahead,” she said. “They don’t let you win very often.”

Camryn said that suddenly having a significant amount of money made him feel generous toward his family and friends. He spent his winnings on gifts.

“They were good gifts,” he said.

Cruz said she heard about the VITA program after she had checked out a for-profit tax preparer businesses.

“They charge a lot of money,” she said.

Before Camryn received his winnings, the casino took out $4,000. He’s hoping he can get some of that back, which will be used to pay college tuition.

Those who take advantage of the VITA program may be a family with a single return, or they may have stocks and bonds that have to be figured in, Shiller said.

“We typically don’t do military-related returns, because we’re not trained in that area,” she said. “There are some items that are beyond the scope of a VITA volunteer. We can’t do state income tax for those who moved here from another state.”

Many people don’t realize the VITA service is free, and there are some who are told but still don’t believe it’s free.

“We’re not allowed to accept anything as payment, not even a cookie,” Shiller said. “It’s our donation to the community.”

Daniel Ramos, director of community services at United Way of Central Texas, said the United Way has a goal of preparing 1,200 tax returns this year through VITA.

In 2019, the United Way of Central Texas VITA volunteers prepared more than 1,000 free tax returns for Central Texans, and brought in more than $1.3 million in refunds and nearly $500,000 in Earned Income Tax Credits to the local community.