Jolanda Burton, 18, of Amite, La., a senior at St. Helena Central High School in Greensburg, established a free, student-run service to complete tax returns for elderly and low-income residents in her community, and to educate them about tax matters. After learning about tax laws, procedures and software in a financial math class, Jolanda realized that she "had valuable information that could help my community." She started by completing a tax return for a friend, who then told others about Jolanda's expertise. Soon, Jolanda was receiving lots of requests for help.
With a grant from the Rural Trust, Jolanda purchased tax software, printer paper, toner and other supplies. She then recruited and trained classmates to help prepare state and federal returns, and to conduct a "Tax Knowledge" class for the community. Once her Free Tax Center was up and running, Jolanda even provided transportation for elderly and low-income taxpayers to get there. The tax service has not only saved residents the trouble or expense of filling out tax returns, but it has also enabled them to take advantage of previously overlooked deductions and credits, and increased their tax refunds, said Jolanda. "The joy of helping someone or seeing them smile because of something you have done for them is the best feeling of all time," she said.