Santa Barbara- S County

High School Students Help File Taxes For Free

VITA Program At Santa Barbara High School Celebrates 20 Years

High School Students Help File Taxes For Free

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - For 20 years, teens at Santa Barbara High School have helped local adults file their taxes.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at the Dons Net Cafe was the first of its kind at any high school in the United States.

"We can help you right over here now," said Leticia Zuniga as she showed Neill Wright to his seat.

Wright has come to the classroom during tax season for the past eight years.

"It's just very gratifying to come here and have my taxes done," he said.

He'll leave all the work up to the students. All he needs to do is hand over the proper paperwork and the teens take it from there.

School has already let out for the day, but that's when the students' volunteer shifts start.

"Mostly not every 17-year-old can say, 'I'm an advanced IRS certified tax preparer.' So it's kind of big," said Zuniga.

Every student in the VITA program is certified to file taxes.

"When other friends or students ask me, 'Hey, what are you doing on Thursday?' I'm doing taxes. And just the look on their face with the cluelessness of 'What are even taxes?' It just assures me that I'm one step ahead in the game," said Amazing Llanos.

The teens aren't on their own. Their teacher and a retired IRS agent checks their work before the returns are submitted.

"We go around. Some of them prepare it up to a certain point, then we come in," said Bob Correa, who worked at the IRS for nearly 37 years.

Wright knows from his eight years of experience that the teens do a good job. He encourages other adults to give them a try.

The students also know that some people are skeptical that they will do it correctly.

"The customers that have been coming here, they already know us, they know we do a good job. But first-timers are always really nervous because they are like, 'These are high school students. I can't believe they do taxes. Like, really?'" said Zuniga.

The tax preparation service is open to the public every Thursday through April 10 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Dons Net Cafe classroom at Santa Barbara High School.

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