ALAMOSA — Trinidad State volunteers, including students and staff, will offer tax prep assistance to local residents through March 14 with help from Adams State University students.
Made possible by the Piton Foundation, this community service is in its ninth year. Genia Rasmussen, Trinidad State Business/Accounting Professor and Lea Chavez, Trinidad State graduate, are the site coordinators, with Julianna Chaparro, TRiO Student Services director, coordinating most of the logistics such as check in and office availability.
Chavez, who is returning to help for the eighth year, said, “It’s a service for the elderly and low income and I like to encourage students who are doing the tax work.”
This once very shy young lady is teaching four one-hour credit classes at Trinidad State while working as a Referral Specialist at Behavioral Health. She earned an AA in Business Administration at Trinidad State and a BS in Small Business and Marketing at ASU. “I never dreamed I would be doing something like this now,” she said. “Tax help Colorado actually did help me come out of my shell.”
Of the seven ASU students who will be assisting, two attended the first night. Austin Taylor, an accounting student in his junior year, is assisting with tax help for the first time. He is interested in seeing how it works. Taylor is working toward his CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and master’s in taxation. Brandi Watts loved helping at ASU last year and was excited to repeat the process at Trinidad State this year. She loved the interaction with the community and is proud to be a VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistant. She is majoring in Business Accounting with a minor in taxation and economics. Most students who assist with tax help are business majors.
Trinidad State student Dottie Kilpatrick is returning for the second year. She Is going for 40 volunteer hours with tax help. With that comes recognition from Colorado State Governor Jared Polis, which would look good in any student portfolio. If a student contributes 100 volunteer hours to tax help, that student would receive recognition from the President of the United States.
Kilpatrick’s education has had its setbacks. She was thrilled about being the first of her siblings to graduate high school. But three days before graduation, she was told her elementary credits didn’t transfer and she couldn’t graduate. Devastated, she dropped out of high school and moved with her boyfriend to Trinidad where she earned her GED from Trinidad State. After moving back to the valley and working odd jobs, she decided she needed something better. College online didn’t work.
“It was too easy to get distracted,” she said. “I needed the classroom setting to keep me on track.” When she walked in to Trinidad State, it felt right. But her dad died that first semester and it was tough. She credits ‘Ms. Genia’ for encouraging her to hang in there. “Ms. Genia is an amazing instructor. She’s very patient and understanding. She actually cares about her students - every one of us. She’s kind of like our teacher/cheerleader. If it wasn’t for Ms. Genia, I would’ve quit a long time ago.”
“When I first started going to college,” said Kilpatrick (24), “I was going for Business Management. I decided about a week in, that I absolutely hated all of it! I told my mom I wanted to quit. She told me to wait. At that point, I signed up for Ms. Genia’s accounting class and I absolutely loved it.”
Then, Rasmussen convinced her to get certified for tax preparation. “It seemed like a fit,” said Kilpatrick. “This is weird but doing taxes is fun for me. Tax prep was the highlight of my week. I love helping people.” Because Kilpatrick enjoyed all the accounting classes, she switched her degree to the accounting clerk certificate which she’ll graduate with this May. Next May she will graduate with her Associate of Arts and she plans to go on for her BA, CPA and MA. Her end goal is a doctorate in accounting with which she hopes to give back by teaching accounting at the college level.
Clients keep coming back for tax help. Except for the year that she lived in Taos and paid $300 to have her taxes done, Brenda Hutchins has been coming to Trinidad State since Colorado Tax Help started there nine years ago. She said, “They are efficient, very thorough, organized, and very professional. This is great.”
“I’ve been going to ASU for years to have my taxes done and I like it,” said Terry Ruggles. “When I learned ASU students would be assisting at Trinidad State this year, I decided to go there.” She said that because of her eyes she can only work on a computer for a short period of time which makes figuring her own taxes difficult. “I like being able to ask questions and problem solve and there are always changes to deal with, so this works better for me,” said Ruggles.
This year, in the Learning Center upstairs on the south end of the building at 1011 Main Street, the tax team will help with taxes from January 31 through March 14 on Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m. and on Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. Another change allows the client to drop off the necessary information one week by completing a secure 15-minute intake process and return the following week to pick up a completed return. Or the clients can file their own taxes with help from an IRS-certified volunteer which generally takes less than an hour. Tax assistance is offered to those families with incomes of less than $55,000.
Trinidad State employees assisting include: Evertt Brown, Julianna Chaparro, Roberta Taylor-Hill, Genia Rassmusen, and Jack Wiley along with Christa Davis, Business Manager at the Veterans Center at Homelake. Davis has assisted Adams State with their Tax Help for years and chose to continue at TS.
To learn more about the process, place a free call to 2-1-1 and press 6 to get tax information. Callers can choose English or Spanish. Some of the tax help volunteers can speak Spanish.