"For the third year in a row, Jacksonville resident John Kelso got his tax return prepared free by the Real Sense Prosperity Campaign.
Kelso had used national tax preparation companies in the past. But he is working two part-time jobs to make ends meet, so he said being able to file his return at no cost makes a big difference to him.
“The cost of gas has gotten so expensive that every penny counts,” he said.
Heading into its 10th year, the nonprofit Real Sense Prosperity Campaign has become a go-to site for tax preparation for thousands of Northeast Florida residents like Kelso.
Since 2003, Real Sense has coordinated hundreds of volunteer tax preparers working at sites in Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau, Baker, Putnam and Flagler counties.
It’s posted a sharp increase in clients, going from 1,563 returns its first year to 16,629 returns last year.
“We really try to target our message to hardworking, low-income folks who have simple tax returns and don’t need to be paying somebody to do their tax returns,” said Jeff Winkler, director of Real Sense.
The campaign is aimed in part at people who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which can result in refunds at tax time. Last year, Real Sense prepared 3,802 tax returns for people able to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit. Those returns generated almost $6.3 million in refunds for those taxpayers.
Bonnie Moore, who oversees the Real Sense site at the Kent Campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville, said even when clients have been able to find jobs, they are struggling financially. Sometimes, they need to work two or more jobs to get by, she said.
“I haven’t seen the economy rebound the way we’re all hoping for — not for the bulk of the clients we’re seeing,” she said.
Real Sense is affiliated with the United Way and draws support from an assortment of government, business and philanthropic sources.
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund is providing $200,000 for this year’s campaign, accounting for about one-third of the budget. The city of Jacksonville is providing a $61,573 grant.
Real Sense also has year-round programs with financial education classes and counseling. A three-year, $300,000 grant by Wells Fargo enabled the opening of a financial service center at the bank’s branch in the Springfield neighborhood."
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