Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

Isidro Valdez Fernandez, executive director of the Housing Authority of Del Rio, center, accepts a donation of $2,000 from H-E-B, including, from left, Joe Garcia, Janie Garcia, unit director; Paola Rocha and Laura Carrillo. H-E-B awarded the housing authority $1,500 in cash and a $500 H-E-B gift card to further its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program efforts.

Housing Authority of the City of Del Rio officials recently honored their partners and volunteers for 35 years of participation in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.

Isidro Valdez Fernandez, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Del Rio, on Jan. 28 hosted a ceremony celebrating the program in the community room in the John Rowland Center on West Martin Street.

“Today we’re celebrating 35 years of the housing authority working with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program. Through the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), the VITA Program provides free assistance with the preparation of income tax forms to low and moderate income taxpayers who make about $56,000 a year or less. We’re also able to provide assistance to persons with disabilities and those who speak limited English,” Fernandez said.

He said this year’s VITA Program schedule is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. The program volunteers will be available through April 15.

Fernandez said anyone interested in obtaining assistance through the program can go by the John Rowland Center, 440 W. Martin St., during the listed hours and speak to a volunteer.

However, we run the VITA Program all year round by appointment,” Fernandez said.

The housing authority executive director said the VITA Program is one of many “extras” the housing authority provides for its tenants.

“In addition to our main focus at the housing authority,

which is providing housing assistance, we also provide many other services for our tenants. We provide 24-hour maintenance and security patrols. We do many informational presentations with our local agencies regarding health, finances, anything that benefits the entire population of tenants we serve.

“We also do scholarships, and we have done after-school tutoring for kids for many years. This year, we added GED classes at the John Rowland Center, and they are free because we are working with Southwest Texas Junior College. We are also doing free ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at Casas Del Rio on Rodriguez Street,” Fernandez said.

“These are initiatives to provide more services for our tenants and these services, along with our participation in VITA, help fulfill the housing authority’s new mission statement, ‘To provide inclusive, affordable housing opportunities for the low income individuals for the city of Del Rio, building a platform for improving quality of life and achieving self-sufficiency.’ And that’s what we do here at the housing authority. Yes, we take care of the housing and those issues, but what else do our tenants need so they can move forward and become self-sufficient?” Fernandez said.

The VITA Program’s success is based on the work of many different individuals, agencies, organizations and businesses, Fernandez said.

“Today, we’ve been joined by some of the housing authority’s board of commissioners. Without them, it would be impossible for us to do the things we do, so I want to recognize them today,” he added.

The commissioners present included Belinda Horton, Ana Markowski Smith and Brenda Luna.

The VITA Program is run by IRS-certified volunteers, Fernandez said.

“We have volunteers with the housing authority who have participated in the program for many years,” he noted.

Among the volunteers are Felicia Rosales, Claudia Mariño, Patricia Vicuña, Thelma Hernandez, Ramiro Guzman, Manuel Guerrero, Catalina Gonzalez, Ana Delgado, Michael Garcia, Alvina Magtanong, Jesus Avila, Silvia Rayo, Ludivina Celestino, Greg Arrambide, site coordinator and trainer; and Yazmina Zapata, site coordinator; and Aracely Garcia, VITA Program coordinator for the housing authority.

Fernandez also recognized the housing authority’s partners in the VITA Program.

“We would not be able to do this without the help of the community and other agencies and the volunteers,” Fernandez said.

He said the city of Del Rio each year contributes $3,750 to the VITA Program, which is divided evenly between the housing authority and Border Federal Credit Union.

Fernandez recognized Maria Martinez, BFCU president and chief executive officer, and members of her staff present at the ceremony.

“Fifteen years ago, BFCU also took the step of having VITA on their premises, so thank you, and having BFCU do this program as well is a big help to the community,” Fernandez said.

He said for the past six years, the housing authority has also been awarded a cash grant from H-E-B.

“This grant is utilized to alleviate some of the expenses of the VITA Program. We are able to provide snacks and drinks for the clients, some of whom come here right after they get off work, and I’m excited to announce that this year, the housing authority has been awarded $2,000 from H-E-B, $1,500 in cash and a $500 H-E-B gift card. This makes a big difference,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez also recognized Catholic Charities for the help its personnel give the program.

“They help by letting us use the computer in their office and bringing volunteers from the RSVP Program, which is very active here in Del Rio,” he said.

Other partners assist as well, such as Las Brisas Apartments, which became a tax preparation site and Xerox Copies, which provides a printer to the housing authority to use free during the tax season; and Conexion Del Rio, which runs public service advertisements for the program; and Smart Solutions for their technical support.

Fernandez also recognized the assistance provided to the program by the Del Rio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and by the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce.

“The main part of our program, though, is our volunteers. We could not do this without all of them. Thank you, and I appreciate you making a difference and giving back to our community,” Fernandez said.

He also read a proclamation signed by Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano designating Jan. 28 as the day marking the VITA Program’s 35th anniversary.

“In the last 35 years, the housing authority has assisted in preparing thousands of income tax returns for residents, program participants and taxpayers of our community. Through the VITA Program, taxpayers of our community have saved in tax preparation fees, maximizing their tax returns, and hundreds of volunteers have participated in the program through the years,” Fernandez read from the proclamation.

Those present were invited to stay after the ceremony for light refreshments.

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