Tell Your Ohana Campaign brings in more than $252,000 in tax refunds

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – April 20 marked the deadline for filing Hawaii state tax returns and the end of the Tell Your Ohana Campaign, a collaborative effort between the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Hawaiian Community Assets, Aloha United Way, Bank of Hawaii, the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The campaign provided free tax preparation for workers and working families at one of the many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites across the state.

With more than $5 billion in tax refunds and credits unclaimed in 2007, CNHA decided to support a campaign to direct Hawaiian and local families to free, quality tax preparation services in place of paid tax services. The Aloha united Way provided training and technical assistance to staff and volunteers, while Bank of Hawaii provided necessary operating costs and other funding for outreach and training that brought awareness about tax credits to communities.

“The funding from Bank of Hawaii, training and technical assistance from the IRS and collaboration with Aloha United Way made our first tax season a success,” said Robin Puanani Danner, CNHA president and CEO. “We thank all those who made the campaign possible, and we look forward to increasing community awareness and working with our partners and volunteers to provide free tax preparation in 2010.”

Sites were set up across the state due to the partnership with Hawaiian Community Assets, a nonprofit provider of financial education. “We have staff and offices set in homestead communities across the state. When approached about the Tell Your Ohana Campaign, we felt that the partnership with CNHA would be a natural fit.” said Michelle Kauhane, HCA executive director. “The campaign provided a free service to many families we work with. It also brought much needed awareness to communities about tax credits and how annual refunds can impact homeownership and finances during these tough economic times.”

With five sites statewide, the campaign featured 10 IRS certified volunteers who prepared more than 140 tax returns. On average, workers and working families assisted by the campaign received $1,794 in tax refunds, with the overall campaign netting $252,979 in tax refunds across the state. Certified and non-certified volunteers collaborated to assist more than 450 individuals by setting up appointments, answering questions or providing referrals to other locations across the state.

CNHA and HCA staff received great feedback from clients and volunteers about the much needed service. “Last year, I paid H&R Block $450 to get my taxes done, but this year it was all free.” said Terri Lemmer, an individual assisted at CNHA’s Honolulu VITA site.

“Volunteering gave me a chance to get to know more families in my community and to share their excitement of receiving tax refunds,” says Michelle Pomberg, a volunteer tax preparer. “I’ll definitely be back next year.”

With the campaign successfully completed, CNHA plans to work with current volunteer tax preparers and recruit additional preparers to gear up for next year. The Native Hawaiian nonprofit and its partners plan to provide free tax preparation services again next year and enhance the Tell Your Ohana Campaign.

CNHA is a Hawaii-based nonprofit serving a network of more than 100 organizations statewide and nationally. CNHA’s mission is to enhance the well-being of Hawaii through the cultural, economic and community development of Native Hawaiians. For further information on the Tell Your Ohana Campaign or to sign up as a volunteer tax preparer for next year’s tax season, contact the CNHA offices by phone at (808) 596-8155 (from Oahu) or toll-free at (800) 709-2642.