Students Lead Poverty Reduction

Last Updated: April 27, 2014

This article appeared in the April 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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Students in St. Gabriel, Louisiana had another banner year in their efforts to help reduce poverty in their community.

For the past seven years, students at East Iberville High School in St. Gabriel have staffed the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) center. The students must learn tax rules and pass tests to demonstrate their ability to prepare returns of different complexity.

"At first I was scared about doing taxes," says Ebonie Isbell, an East Iberville student who volunteered at the center. "But once I took the training and learned the information, I was more comfortable." 

The students staff the East Iberville center and complete tax returns for local residents. Their work includes looking for deductions, Earned Income Tax Credits, and other options that can help lower their customers' taxes or increase their tax refunds, options customers might not have known they were eligible for. The effort has resulted in hundreds of thousands of tax dollars being returned to the community.

Student Kristen Stewart says she enjoyed the work. "It felt good to know that I was helping someone out in the community. To hear them say 'thank you' was such a good feeling."

This year six students worked at the center. The East Iberville center opened in early February and continued operations through the tax season. Students processed 133 tax returns in 2014, totaling $227,000 in refunds.

Tracy Warren teaches at East Iberville and works with students in the tax center. "Each year the number of tax returns grows," she says. "And, every year the community looks forward to this service and students look forward to volunteering." 

The students also operate the East Iberville Credit Union seasonally. The credit union is important because it provides a way for people who do not have a regular bank account to receive their tax refunds. The credit union also offers a safe place for members to save money and build a cash reserve.

In addition to youth-led poverty reduction efforts in St. Gabriel, four students in the Belfair community of East Baton Rouge also staffed a free VITA center. Those students processed 93 tax returns for a total of $133,000 in tax refunds.


Read more from the April 2014 Rural Policy Matters.