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    Posted February 25, 2011

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VITA is Boffo on 35th Anniversary Opening Day

Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony Honors Co-Founders and Supporters

By David Lotz, National Communications Director

On Monday, February 7, 2011, a long line began forming before dawn at the Equity Office in New York - not for a Chorus call, but for the 35th Anniversary Grand Opening of the newly-renovated VITA office. VITA is the only IRS-sanctioned tax assistance program in the country specializing in performers' tax returns. Each year, VITA prepares thousands of complex federal, state and local tax returns for almost 3000 AEA, AFTRA and SAG members.

Charles Hendricks

The first to arrive was AEA member/early bird Charles Hendricks, who got there at 3:15 am. Charles said: "This is my fourth anniversary of celebrating the miracle that is VITA. I think I first learned about VITA in a dream - I was being eaten alive by H&R sharks, private accountant lions, & nasty turbo tax worms. I reached up out of the darkness and the VITA mother ship descended, bathing me in a warm white light. I woke up & decided to go check it out."

When asked how VITA has helped him with his particular tax situation, Charles said "VITA has empowered me. The volunteers and staff are geniuses at what they do. Their worksheets have helped me to become more of a record keeping genius. I feel so grateful for their service. Their new office is DIVINE, which matches the angelic effect they have on the artist community they help. Thank you VITA!"

Anthony Morelli, Sudana Bobatoon, Brett Kemp

Another early bird was AEA member Anthony Morelli: "Considering how popular VITA is, I arrived around 6 AM. I signed in with the intent of scheduling an appointment, but also brought all my necessary documents so I could take advantage of the walk-in policy. By the time I filled out the new updated work sheets, I was able to walk in and actually finished my taxes by 10:30 AM!

"I have been meeting the dedicated VITA team for 20 years! I started to use VITA specifically because I had read that there were deductions as a performer I should be taking but didn't know what they were. There have been additions to the type of deductions over the years (such as Internet and web site expense which we didn't have 20 years ago!) but the VITA service is always the same ... wonderful. I am a Big Fan of the volunteers who run the VITA. Tax time causes huge stress for me. The VITA staff and worksheets designed for members of our profession help eliminate the guess work and the worry."

Amy Connor and Sandra Karas

AEA member Amy Connor is another BIG FAN of VITA's: "I've been coming to VITA since 1987 (23 years!) when I read first read about it in BackStage. I was a new Equity member and was completely confused about how to file my taxes with all those out of town jobs. The first time I came in, Conard Fowkes (VITA Co-Founder) did my taxes, and I was lucky enough to have him prepare my returns a good number of times.

"Over the years VITA has seen me through a marriage, a divorce, a big game show win, another marriage, three children, and two houses. The wonderful volunteers have navigated the tax code minefield of Broadway, National tours, and innumerable regional theaters in many, many states as well as Japan and Italy. And through it all they've taught me more each year about what I'm entitled to as an actor."

"I really don't know what I would have done without them. I was joking that they'll have to set up a satellite office at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood when I'm a little old lady in a wheel chair and can't get into the city any more to do my taxes!"

Ribbon Cutting Honors Supporters, Co-Founders

Immediately proceeding "V" Day, VITA held a ribbon cutting for its newly-renovated headquarters for volunteers and VIPs on February 4th.

Sandra Karas, AEA's Secretary-Treasurer and VITA site coordinator, welcomed guests and talked about VITA's history and the new renovations.

"Tonight, I would like to acknowledge VITA's Co-Founders: Michael Enserro, Conard Fowkes, and Schorling Schneider. In 1976, Michael Enserro, AEA Councilor, active committee person and veteran of many contract negotiations, thought he could find yet another way in which he and his union could serve his fellow members. The Internal Revenue Service had just started a volunteer outreach program to encourage those who had the knowledge or desire to learn to assist those who were unable to avail themselves of professional tax preparation. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program seemed to Michael like a program that was tailor-made for performing artists and he started Equity's VITA Site. Along the way, he enlisted the help of two other Councilors and active union members, Schorling Schneider and Conard Fowkes. The three of them learned tax preparation from the IRS and prepared returns for working actors, operating out of a storage closet at 1501 Broadway. Schorling demonstrated that there was no limit to the kinds of returns VITA would take on and Conard, who was also a member of the AFTRA board, solicited the help and support of both AFTRA and SAG in supporting the program. Thus was VITA nurtured and expanded to offer free tax assistance to members of the 3 unions. What began as an effort to help actors and stage managers better navigate the waters of the IRS has grown to a year-round, free service that includes, not only the member's federal and home state filings, but all states and localities in which our members have worked. VITA is unique because it provides advocacy along with friendly, helpful and supportive volunteers who understand our members. What these founders created lives on and thrives in their memories."

"After more than 30 years in its current space, VITA was determined to get some new furniture, replace torn carpeting and dingy ceiling tiles, upgrade electrics and get a fresh coat of paint before February's thirty-fifth anniversary. The new colors, service plaques, and framed photos of the founders and volunteers have made it a real 'home' to the volunteers as well."

Among those attending the February 4 ribbon-cutting were: SAG Foundation Board member/ SAG NY Division VP Rebecca Damon, AFTRA Board Member and New York VP Janette Gautier; Actors' Equity Foundation President and AEA VP Emeritus Arne Gundersen; Actors Fund Director of Planned Giving and Secretary of the Edith Meiser Foundation Wallace Munro; and Actors' Equity Association Executive Director Mary McColl. Executives, staff and board members from Screen Actors Guild, Actors' Equity Association and AFTRA and members from the three foundation boards were also present.

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