Francisco Rodriguez grew up a timid person who would get nervous when he would socialize. But two years ago he started volunteering at the McAllen EITC-VITA (Earned Income Tax Credit-Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Community Service Project and now the senior is ready to assist people this tax season.

Rodriguez, who has completed the mandatory requirements of taking the basic tax law course and scoring 80 percent or better on the exam and learned how to use the tax preparer software, has challenged the other three high schools in McAllen to follow in the Lamar Academy footsteps.

“Today, there are 37 students at Lamar Academy who are already certified to do this job,” said Rodriguez, who scored a 96 on his exam. “Now what we need is for McAllen Memorial, McHi and Nikki Rowe to pick up the slack and join us in our community service project to make VITA a success.”

McAllen Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Ahlenius explained more about what the McAllen EITC-VITA does for the community.

“Every year we have thousands of families that the federal government considers working poor, meaning that their tax money is taken out of their paycheck and when it comes time to file they can get as much as $5,800 back for a family of four that earns $48,000,” Ahlenius said. “In tough economic times it can have a huge impact for that family. It can mean possibly a purchase of a new home, down payment on a car or even used to pay medical expenses.”

Dr. James Ponce, superintendent of McAllen I.S.D., told the media that the school district is ready to do their part in the effort to help the community.

“We’re doing our part by sending fliers home to our 25,000 students,” Ponce said. “Last year 84 McAllen I.S.D. students were among the volunteers who helped over 900 families claim $742,000 in EITC refunds.”

For Rodriguez, his confidence is now at an all time high and now he not only knows how to manage his finances but knows what opportunities are available for his future.

“I think it definitely helps me speak more comfortably with people I don’t know,” Rodriguez said. “It helps with my social interaction and also to manage my finances and learn about all the different opportunities you have through the government.”

For information about VITA locations, dial 2-1-1. Free e-file income tax services are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Lamar Academy, 1009 N. 10th Street.

Taxpayers should bring required photo identification, original social security cards, income statements such as Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-G, 1099INT and 1099MISC. Expense amounts such as day care and provider’s identifying number, tuition, etc. For faster return bring a copy of Form 1040 for 2008. For direct deposit bring bank routing numbers and account numbers.