The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Sinte Gleska University (SGU) helps the Sicangu Lakota people do their taxes for free. SGU has been partnering with the IRS to provide VITA services for over 14 years. The program has potentially saved over $9,900 in filing fees and has brought back over $76,000 in refunds to the community.
The training leading up to opening day of the tax season is always a challenge, as those seeking to be VITA volunteers must be IRS-certified before they can help anyone. The certification process is rigorous, as all potential volunteers must pass an examination. There’s a basic and advanced level, and without at least two volunteers certified at the advanced level the university would be unable to offer the VITA program. For the 2015 tax year, the process was even more rigorous, as the training was repeatedly postponed due to winter weather. Community members who rely on the services called in, concerned that the university would not be able to help them.
Maureece Heinert, VITA site coordinator and chair of the Business Management Department at SGU, was concerned as well. “We did not have training yet and opening day was here. Our VITA volunteers— Jenifer Greaves, Derek Long Crow, Stephanie Luxon, and Lorraine Nez— stepped up and individually trained and got certified online, on their own,” Heinert says. “Not only did they do it through self-study, all attained advanced certification in their first year as a VITA volunteer.”
These volunteers exemplify wolakota, the dedication, respect, and commitment to help the Lakota people to become contributing members of the community and the Rosebud tribe. In recognition of outstanding public service contributed to the Sicangu Oyate through the VITA program: Wopila!