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  Sunday February 1st, 2015    

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It’s tax season for Katrina victims, volunteers, too (03/09/2006)
By Brian P. Heilman
Tax season is dawning, causing yet another headache for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the process of reclaiming and rebuilding their lives. With their homes, jobs, and documents destroyed by the historic storm, the annual routine of filing tax returns has become a puzzling, frustrating task.

That's why Winona State accounting professor Richard Schneider and his wife Mary traveled to the Gulf Coast in mid-February.

Schneider, who runs a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) center on the WSU campus, hoped to assist hurricane victims in completing their tax returns. Schneider worked for a full week in this capacity, and also trained volunteers at Louisiana VITA centers to continue the work he started.

Still, the most powerful moment the Schneiders experienced was a simple hug from a single mother whose home they helped clean up.

"We stayed at the Dedeaux retreat center, where there were a number of other volunteers from all over the country," said Schneider. "Most of them went out every day, gutting houses, putting up drywall and cleaning yards." These volunteers, according to Schneider, worked through the Catholic Long Term Recovery initiative, a national volunteering program.

"One day, Mary and I had the opportunity to work with the crew to clean up a collapsed garage for a single parent family, where the mother was afraid that some ‘nasty critters' would take residence," Richard said.

"Our best reward from the week was the hug we got from this mother after we finished."

Schneider also spread information to volunteers about certain tax deductions for which they may qualify.

"Congress has allowed particular tax provisions for Katrina volunteers," he said. These provisions, which help cover the travel and work expenses of volunteers, have been implemented for this tax season.

See Schneider's article entitled, "Did you or will you volunteer to help Hurricane Katrina victims?" on 10AA for details and contact information.

"The people of the gulf area are kind, welcoming, hopeful, and quick to smile," Schneider said. "The level of destruction is vast. Most homes are gone or severely damaged."

Amid all the destruction, Schneider discovered one simple key lesson unrelated to tax returns.

"The most important thing I learned," he said, "was that you need to listen to people's stories."

That's the only way to truly understand the devastation this great storm caused, he said.

During the spring break, student groups from both St. Mary's University and Winona State are traveling to Louisiana to volunteer. By all accounts, there is still a monumental amount of work to be done.



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