The move to University High School didn’t curtail participation in the free tax preparation service long offered by the A.J. Moore Academy of Finance.

Since the program kicked off Jan. 26, IRS-certified students have filed taxes electronically for about 1,690 residents, said Angela 
Reiher, dean of the A.J. Moore Academies at University.

Last year, when the service still was at its original site — the former A.J. Moore High School campus — about 1,800 clients were served. The two high schools merged on the University campus at the beginning of the school year.

“We’re in good shape this year,” Reiher said. “We’re ahead of the game, ahead of where we normally (would be).”

On at least five nights, students stayed at the school as late as 11:30 p.m. to finish filings — three hours past the posted closing time for the tax service. The students served about 130 clients on their busiest day.

“Even though we closed the doors at 8 p.m., we chose to stay and continue to finish taxes for every single person who had come,” said junior Sandra Garcia, 17, the student assistant manager for the tax service. “We had some people who had waited as long as two hours because it was so packed.”

Reiher said the program set a goal of 1,900 clients this year. She expects to see a surge of last-minute filers this week as the IRS’ April 15 filing deadline draws near.

In addition, the students this year also are helping residents complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to secure grants and loans for college, the first time the program has offered that 

Reiher said academy administrators began marketing outreach earlier this year to direct residents to University High instead of the former A.J. Moore campus on University Parks Drive, which now serves as Indian Spring Middle School.

Past clients were sent save-the-date postcards in November with information about this year’s tax service dates, and fliers were sent to residents in the South Waco area near University. Information also was posted around the Indian Spring campus directing residents to University in case former clients returned to that site.

Reiher said the program has held on to regular clients who previously used the service, but it also has been able to attract a new client base from around the University High area. Some people even have come in groups from as far as Temple or Copperas Cove, she said.

New location

Reiher said she didn’t know if the high school’s highly visible location along Interstate 35 helped boost interest in the tax service.

“The ebb and flow of the area has worked out very well here, and I think people have been comfortable, even if they have to wait,” Reiher said.

Waco resident Denise Hubbard, 61, found out about the service through a PSA that aired on TV. She usually takes advantage of a free Goodwill tax preparation service, but opted to try the A.J. Moore program last week on a day when the nonprofit group’s service was closed.

University High is about two blocks from her home, which made the trip more convenient, but Hubbard said she did encounter some difficulty locating the tax center on campus.

“That was the main drawback, not knowing what area to go to,” Hubbard said as she waited last week to meet with one of the student tax filers. “This is the third parking lot I’ve been to.”

Angelo Ochoa, one of the finance teachers overseeing the tax program, said staff and students worked to troubleshoot problems and make the transition as smooth as possible, such as creating different check-in stations to answer questions and verify ID before directing clients to the tax computer lab.

After some opening-week jitters, Ochoa said, the students were able to dive into the work and get most customers in and out within 
20 minutes.

“The first night they’re sweating, they’re so nervous,” Ochoa said. “But after they actually do some and start to feel comfortable, which takes about two tax returns, they become more confident . . . they start asking less questions and figure it out on their own.”