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Free professional tax help available for students

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The Southern Colorado Educational Opportunity Center is offering to prepare students’ taxes for free and assist them with their Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They will be preparing the taxes Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

SCEOC has a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program which currently staffs eight people throughout southern Colorado, according to Veronica Herrera, Assistant Director of SCEOC.  This year’s total of 124 tax returns surpasses the total for last year.

Although the service is retained for students enrolled in the program, joining is easy and many students qualify. SCEOC is a federally funded program that helps low income and first generation college students.

“The thing of it all is a lot of people will preclude themselves and say ‘well I’m not low-income,'” Herrera said, but most students are eligible. The qualifying income bracket is 150 percent of poverty level.

Joining the program will save students money by preparing their taxes and gives them an opportunity to retain the other services and support the SCEOC offers.

“All of our services are to gain access to college. That’s what we’re all about,” Herrera said. “Our program extends out on the war on poverty and we are trying to break that first generation cycle. We are tying to outreach and recruit potential students and get them into college.”

SCEOC recruits students for many colleges in southern Colorado. Some services that SCEOC offers include help with admissions fee waivers, financial aid applications, scholarship applications and referrals to community resources.

“We are also really connected in the community,” Herrera said. “We make referrals to other programs that we think will help students remain in school.” 

SCEOC employees attend networking meetings and give presentations at other community services.

The program is designed to help remove barriers to keep students in school, which is why they reach out primarily to first-generation and low-income students and stay proactive within the community, Herrera said. 

First-generation eligibility is valid if your parents went to college, but didn’t receive at least a bachelors degree and even if an older sibling is already in college.

“Some students don’t have role models or mentors. They don’t understand the process,” Herrera said. “That’s what we are here to do, to help alleviate the fear and intimidation of the paperwork process.”

The enrollment process begins with a pre-assessment and intake over the phone. Some information needed is age, income and dependency, and is similar to that of financial aid.