Norristown, PA — A group of Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) accounting students are gaining real-world experience preparing federal and state income tax returns for lower income households.
Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, eight MCCC students, along with Rita Mayhew, an Accounting instructor and the faculty advisor to the student Accounting Club, have been volunteering their time at the Montgomery County Community Action Development Commission (CADCOM) office in Norristown. Since February, five students join Mayhew every Saturday for three hours. Their services will continue through April 15.
“I’m extremely proud of the effort that they’ve put into this,” Mayhew said. “They learned the software. They’re talking to the clients. They have gained a lot of confidence.”
MCCC’s accounting faculty added a curriculum requirement that five percent of a student’s grade is based on successful VITA certification. Faculty do not mandate that students volunteer. However, doing so provides students with real-world learning to reinforce and build upon what’s taught in the classroom.
“Besides learning, they’ve had tax courses, but until you actually do the work and put it into practice, maybe it doesn’t all gel,” Mayhew said. “This group in particular, they’re just very focused on learning.”
For some MCCC student volunteers, including Jinman “Jean” Li, English is their second language. For Li, a Business Administration student who plans to major in Accounting, the tax return process was unfamiliar. In her native China, tax returns are not filed.
Li said she is excited about the opportunity to gain more accounting knowledge.
“I can help people and I also can get some experience,” she said. “I just feel so happy.”
Ken Haubert, CADCOM’s director of asset development, echoed those sentiments.
“They are the best there is,” Haubert said of MCCC student volunteers and their dedication. “This is our best year by far, in our partnership with the community college, thanks to Rita.”
In all, Mayhew estimates that students will have completed 200 tax returns – or possibly more – through tax season.
Last year, 1,565 total tax returns were filed through CADCOM’s VITA program, according to Haubert. This year, with more volunteers, particularly from MCCC, Haubert anticipates even more returns being completed.
In order to qualify for VITA tax preparation services, households cannot make more than $54,000. Last year’s average income for those served at CADCOM VITA sites was $19,600, according to Haubert. The free service saved clients $352,000 in tax preparation fees last year. This, when added to refunds of $2,626,325, generated a total community economic impact of $4,175,855 at CADCOM VITA sites alone, he said.
Haubert said student volunteers not only benefit his program, but the community and the students as well.
“They are dealing with personalities of clients,” Haubert said. “You have to use your tact and your interpersonal skills to make them feel comfortable.
In the end, he said, students gain “real life experiences.”
VITA services are available at multiple locations throughout Montgomery County. To find the location closest to you, dial 2-1-1 from your telephone and follow the prompts. To schedule an appointment at CADCOM’s Norristown location, clients may also call 610-277-6363 ext. 115.
Norristown, PA — College-bound students and their parents are invited to a Regional College Fair at the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League, 340 Harding Blvd., Norristown, on Thursday, Feb. 18. Visit http://www.greaternorristownpal.org/college-fair for a list of participating colleges and universities.
The public portion of the fair runs from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m., during which high students in grades nine through 12 and their parents can talk with representatives from more than 30 colleges and universities about admissions, financial aid, scholarships and academic programs. This portion of the event is free and is open to the community.
Earlier in the day, Norristown eighth grade students will visit the fair from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to learn about the various institutions and programs as they begin to explore college opportunities. This portion is closed to the public.
The Regional College Fair is sponsored by Montgomery County Community College, the Pennsylvania Association for College Admission Counseling (PACAC) and the Greater Norristown Police Athletic League.
For more information, Visit http://www.greaternorristownpal.org/college-fair or call MCCC Assistant Director of Admissions Carolyn White at 215-641-6561.
The Housing Counseling Program provides free classes and individual counseling helping more than 9,500 potential first-time homebuyers and homeowners. Monthly classes focus on topics not taught in regular school including understanding credit, credit repair, money management, saving plans, grant programs and understanding the home buying process including selecting a realtor and finding the best mortgage.
Genesis Housing Corporation is a certified U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Counseling Agency. Genesis Housing Corporation is also an approved Counseling Agency for FannieMae and PA Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). Providing HUD and PHFA approved counseling allows a qualified applicant to participate in special bank programs and the state programs which can often benefit home buyers. Genesis Housing Corporation is also an approved agency for housing counseling grant programs including the Montgomery County First-time Home Buyers Program, Norristown’s First-time Home Buyers Program and Federal Home Loan Bank’s First Front Door Program. These programs allow more families to become homebuyers by reducing the amount of savings required for down payments and closing costs.
Housing Counseling Classes
Class #1: Understanding Credit
- Understand credit reporting
- Obtain a free credit report from all major credit bureaus
- Learn how to improve your credit score
Class #2: Money Management
- Setting up a working budget – “It’s more than just the bills”
- How does current spending impact future financial options
- Prioritizing spending in tough economic times
- Dealing with debt and developing a savings plan
Class #3: Home Buying Basics
- Understanding the home buying process – realtors, agreement of sale, mortgages, inspections, insurance and more
- Learn about grant and loan programs for homebuyers
Genesis Housing offers monthly classes in Norristown. Classes are offered in other Montgomery County locations several times per year. Classes are free but registration is required.
Editor’s note: The difference is that when Norristown searches for new employees, they actually hire the best qualified people instead of just moving people up and perpetuating the same bad policies like Pottstown (under the guise that Pottstown is so complicated nobody could come in and “figure it out” in less than a couple years). Sorry, new ideas are needed. Congrats to Norristown for being proactive and embracing change. Apparently, it’s working!
Pottstown and Norristown are the two largest urban areas in Montgomery County and share many of the same challenges, particularly when it comes to crime.
In the wake of the wave of violence in Pottstown which culminated in last month’s arrests of more than 30 people involved in an apparent gang war, a community meeting about crime was held recently in Norristown that focused on what police and authorities are doing now, and how citizens can help.
Norristown Police Chief Mark Talbot Sr. has been asking that question since he took over leadership of that department two years ago, and he’s starting to see answers get results.
In the last two years, major crimes in Norristown have dropped by 20 percent.
NORRISTOWN, PA – Carbon monoxide emissions on the 100 block of West Airy Street in Norristown sent eight people to the hospital late Saturday night.
Crews were summoned to 156 W. Airy St. for a medical call around 11 p.m. Saturday, according to Norristown Fire Chief Tom O’Donnell
“There was a subject vomiting and not feeling well,” he said. “When they got there they immediately detected a generator running in the basement and called the Norristown Fire Department.”
A systematic house by house search was conducted for any other victims due to the extremely high levels of carbon monoxide in the home, O’Donnell said.
NORRISTOWN, PA – The ribbon-cutting ceremony was a casual affair at the 24-unit Arbor Mews townhouse project Thursday on DeKalb Street.
Nine of the 24 townhouses have been sold and two more are under deposit, said Sarah Peck, the president of Progressive Housing Ventures.
“We will have purchase settlements twice a week from mid-May to mid-June with the homeowners moving in shortly after that. Seven of the buyers are first-time homebuyers and four qualified for at least one grant to help with the townhouse purchase.”
Construction for the overall project is expected to be complete in late fall or early next year.
Norristown, PA – Montgomery County, in partnership with SEPTA, Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association, The Partnership TMA, and TransNet, is presenting “Your Transit Dollars at Work” on Thursday, April 16, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room at the Whitemarsh Township building, 616 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill.
The event will focus on the exciting future of transit in Montgomery County. Representatives from the Montgomery County Planning Commission, SEPTA, and local transportation management associations will be on hand to present information, answer questions, and listen to comments.
Participants will have an opportunity to learn about SEPTA’s draft capital plan with station improvements and system upgrades, current commuting alternatives, and Montco’s plan for the future as highlighted in Montco 2040: A Shared Vision, Montgomery County’s nationally awarded new comprehensive plan.
The public is invited to participate and see the impressive vision plan for transit in Montgomery County and to discover what new transit funding is doing for county citizens. Additional information and online registration are available at http://www.montcopa.org/PlanningTransit. Montgomery County’s new comprehensive plan is available at http://www.montcopa.org/Montco2040. Please contact Crystal Gilchrist at 610-278-3734 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
NORRISTOWN, PA – The first phase has been completed, and now the second phase of a road project that will eventually connect Norristown to the Pennsylvania Turnpike will begin.
Despite the cold on Wednesday, the Montgomery County commissioners broke ground on the $12.9 million second phase of the project, which will extend Lafayette Street to Diamond Avenue in Plymouth Township. The second phase will also reconstruct and widen Diamond Avenue from the Pennsylvania Turnpike bridge to the Norristown border at Ross Street.
“Many of us were here together months ago when we kicked off phase one of the Lafayette Street extension project. Today we’re here to talk about ramping up phase two of the Lafayette Street extension project,” commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro told a crowd of county employees and local officials involved in the project.
Shapiro told the group that they will begin to see traffic slow down as the second phase makes its way through its expected completion date of spring 2017, but he added there will not be detours on Ridge Pike in Plymouth Township.
WEST NORRITON TOWNSHIP, PA – More than 100 Norristown Area High School students staged a walkout Tuesday morning in protest of what they said were racist comments posted to the Internet by a school employee.
The peaceful protest was organized via Twitter following the employee’s two-day suspension, which the students and some parents said was too light a punishment.
“Basically, we’re protesting, standing up for what we believe,” said student protestor Imani Meade.
An employee “posted a racist statement that went viral for Norristown High School,” Meade said.
NORRISTOWN, PA – A 28-year-old man who was shot in Norristown Monday night was discovered mortally wounded in Plymouth Township, according to a press release issued by the Norristown Police Department and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office.
Police were called to the 1200 block of Locust Street at 8:52 p.m. and discovered shell casings and other evidence at the scene. Norristown police said two people were shot. The release stated that while police were investigating, the victim was found in Plymouth Township.
Editor’s note: Alas, Pottstown leadership doesn’t seem to get this concept. Two thumbs up to Norristown leadership for being proactive and thinking outside of the box. We like what we are seeing.
NORRISTOWN, PA – Police are called with increasing frequency for complaints about a homeless man with mental health issues. A boy who lives in a household familiar to authorities for domestic issues has started skipping school and breaking curfew. An unemployed mother of three with no previous criminal record is arrested for drug possession.
These are examples of bad situations that many law enforcement officials agree often get worse.
But what if that was not necessarily the case? What if police and other public health and safety professionals collaborated on these cases using a comprehensive strategy that enabled them to mitigate risk factors and intervene to address small infractions before they snowball into larger ones, effectively reducing and preventing crime?
That is the goal of the Whole of Government concept, presented at the 2015 International Conference on Proven Collaborative Strategies for Improved Community Wellness and Safety recently held at the King of Prussia Radisson and conducted by the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute (PSJSI). The concept, which has a proven track record of success in Canada, is being implemented by a small number of forward-thinking law enforcement agencies in the U.S., including Norristown.
Despite a state law signed last year to avoid such circumstances, some communities are still applying parts of local ordinances that allow them to have “disruptive” tenants evicted if more than a few calls to 911 have been made from a residence — even when those calls result from domestic abuse.
The American Civil Liberties Union is involved in a current case in Verona and worked with a woman in Mount Oliver who faced a similar situation last summer. In 2013, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against Norristown, Pa., after the organization said officials there pushed for the eviction of a woman who was a victim of domestic violence.
Sara Rose, an attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said it’s hard to tell how often these types of ordinances — intended to prevent disruptive behavior — are being used as punishment when tenants call 911. Several municipalities in the state have such ordinances, but Ms. Rose said she’s not aware of any towns that have repealed or changed them since then-Gov. Tom Corbett signed the new law in November.
“Just having it creates a chilling effect on tenants who might be afraid to call the police,” she said.
Blue Bell, Pa.—Eleven students enrolled in Dr. Lynn Swartley O’Brien’s Honors Cultural Anthropology course at(MCCC) recently participated in a service learning project in partnership with the (CCATE) in Norristown.
“I wanted to give [the students] an immersive experience in another culture,” O’Brien said. “I wanted them to experience culture shock and look at others, and ultimately themselves, in a new perspective.”
Throughout the fall semester, the students—all scholars in—volunteered at least two hours, one night per week as peer mentors at CCATE’s after school program. The program works to equip Norristown Latino middle and high school students with the skills needed to succeed socially and academically in American culture, while respecting their Latin roots.
O’Brien believes that service projects, particularly peer-mentor programs, are innovative because they create a mutually beneficial relationship between mentors and mentees.
“Students in CCATE had positive role models who helped them with their homework [while]…the Honors students reported that the experience was a positive one,” O’Brien said.
Cassandra Davis, one of the Honors students who volunteered at CCATE, felt culture shock in the form of a language barrier.
“My first Spanish reading session at CCATE made me feel completely isolated. All the students and even most of the volunteers could speak Spanish,” Davis said.
Davis could not speak the native tongue of many of the young children with whom she worked.
The culture shock did not last long, however. The reciprocal relationship of the mentor-mentee model was illustrated when two of the young mentees helped to ease Davis’s anxieties by teaching her some Spanish.
“I would help them with homework, then they would help me with Spanish during reading time,” Davis said.
O’Brien said that some students have reported that the experience was “life changing.”
This seems to be especially true for Davis, who still volunteers at CCATE even though the requirements of the project ended months ago.
Davis and her classmates are not the only students who have seen the value of service learning projects under O’Brien’s tutelage.
In fact, last semester, O’Brien had her online cultural anthropology students research charities that work on significant social issues outside the United States and Europe. One group of online students chose to raise money for Heifer International, a non-profit organization that works to eradicate poverty and hunger through sustainable community development.
“[The students] raised over $300—enough to buy a water buffalo for a family in need,” O’Brien said. “They learned about the sustainable gift of an animal—a gift that will keep giving and producing more for an agricultural family in need.”
O’Brien has also overseen fundraising projects that have procured money for Aid for Africa and other organizations. She has even organized a project that had students volunteer at a local excavation site as part of her archaeological anthropology course.
“Overall, I think my civic projects have been successful,” she said. “Some students have initially been resistant or indifferent, but many more students have had positive outcomes.”
Multiple Honors students reported that they have benefited from the cultural values they learned from the predominately Latino community at CCATE. For example, student Jessica Miller recognized the emphasis Latinos place on family.
“I believe there are hidden diamonds in every culture, and we need to be active in discovering them and, if appropriate, incorporating them into our own lifestyles. For example, Latinos highly value family relationships. I want to do the same,” Miller said.
O’Brien believes that anthropological studies are an important component of a liberal arts education, emphasizing multiculturalism for this very reason.
“Students in cultural anthropology learn about the endless cultural diversity that abounds in our world. It is amazing when students learn that things in their world that they take as ‘natural’ such as family, gender, and economics, can be construed and understood in profoundly different ways by different cultures in other parts in the world. I think it is inspiring,” O’Brien said.
“When we have the self-realization that our circumstances are a product of culture, we begin to understand the power we have to change them,” she continued. “As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’”
These lessons seem to be firmly engrained in Samantha Smyth, another one of O’Brien’s Honors students.
“CCATE has made me understand that it is important to be involved in your community and that things are not just going to magically get better in society. We have to work towards betterment and it takes efforts like this to begin the process,” Smyth said. “I now know that all it takes is two hours a week to change a young person’s outlook on things.”
Miller also recognized how easy it was to make an impact on a child.
“Because of [those] 10 weeks, I believe that I can make a difference in the life of a child, even if I never verbally express how important they are. By taking the time to listen to their stories; by chasing them up and down the gym; by dancing with them to help them memorize their multiplication tables, kids realize that they are worth a person’s time, energy, and resources,” Miller said.
“Overall,” Miller added, “service learning has a circular effect and creates role models for the next generation.”
O’Brien is encouraged by the work her students did in the fall semester and believes that she will see the rewards of this “circular effect” in the near future.
The mere presence of college students who care implicitly communicates a very important message to the young middle and high school students—that college is an attainable goal.
“I can’t wait to see some of these students at CCATE in my classes at MCCC in just a few years. I know that what we are doing there as mentors and volunteers will help to pave the way for these young people going to college,” O’Brien said.
NORRISTOWN, PA – Moody’s Investor Service upgraded the county’s bond rating outlook from “negative” to “stable” on Monday, according to a press release.
The county is expecting to refund $25.6 million in outstanding bonds in the coming weeks and had its rating “affirmed” to an Aa1 rating, according to the release sent out Monday afternoon.
“With the upgrade, Moody’s is recognizing the remarkable turnaround in the fiscal situation in Montgomery County,” commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro said in the press release.
NORRISTOWN, PA – The start of a six-month demolition of the seven-story Montgomery Hospital building on Powell Street this week has unlocked a flood of emotional responses from former patients, employees and residents of the nearby Locust Street block.
“It’s sad, but it is what it is,” said Leah Yzzi, a 16-year resident of Norristown who worked at the hospital as both a switchboard operator and as a teenage candy striper. “It was stupid to move the hospital to East Norriton.”
Yzzi gave birth to her three children — Kailee, 13, Jordan 12, and Angelo, 8 — at Montgomery Hospital.
“I made a lot of friends there. My mom, Kathy Kriebel, worked there for 15 years as an oncology nurse,” she said. “My step-dad, Dave Trumbore, worked there as an infectious disease doctor. I actually candy striped there for two summers in high school. I liked doing that.”
NORRISTOWN, PA – Two phone calls months apart from each other allowed investigators to link together two drug rings that delivered crystal meth and heroin to the streets of Norristown and other parts in southeastern Pennsylvania.
District Attorney Risa Ferman announced Wednesday the arrest of 32 people, including four major alleged drug pushers, in Norristown in a joint operation appropriately dubbed “Operation Snow and Ice Removal.”
“This is a series of drug trafficking arrests that have been made in two overlapping drug trafficking rings that relate to the sale of crystal meth, heroin and cocaine, primarily in Norristown but with tentacles in southeast Pennsylvania,” Ferman said at a press conference.