Fri, Jul

Park Mesa Heights Community Council and California Bank & Trust offer free tax services

Sherri Harris (right), VP and Branch Manager of California Bank & Trust, and Toni Knightner, CEO of A New Life 4 U Economic Development Corporation, help a customer with his taxes. Photo by Jason Lewis


In partnership with AIM/Alliance and A New Life 4 U Economic Development Corporation, the council and bank promote financial literacy while building relationships with community members.


By Blake Carter

Park Mesa Heights Community Council, which serves Hyde Park, Angeles Mesa, and View Heights, is partnering with AIM/Alliance, California Bank & Trust and A New Life 4 U Economic Development Corporation to offer free tax preparation services through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program.

“Many people in our community cannot afford to pay H & R Block or Liberty Tax $200 to file,” said Tonia Knightner, CEO of A New Life 4 U Economic Development Corporation and treasurer of the Park Mesa Heights Community Council.  “We want to help people keep funds in their pocket.  We show people how to properly prepare throughout the year so that they don’t owe at the end of the year, and they can get a refund.”

Volunteers through the VITA program are preparing income tax forms for people at the California Bank & Trust, which is on Crenshaw Boulevard just south of Coliseum Street.  They are at the bank Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., until April 12.  Their efforts are not only about filing taxes, but they are also promoting financial literacy.

“This is a free service, but we don’t just do the taxes for free,” Knightner said.  “We’re also showing people how to budget.  Financial empowerment is important.  It’s a part of economic development.”

This free service could have been held at a number of community spaces or churches, but there was great value in holding it at California Bank & Trust.

“We partnered with the bank because we wanted to teach financial empowerment,” Knightner said  “We’re teaching people how to manage their funds better, and also to give them a second chance at banking.  We’re giving them an opportunity to come into a bank, because a lot of people have been going to these check cashing places.  It’s predatory lending over there.  So we’re having them come into the banks and meet the bankers.

“California Bank & Trust has been a pillar in our community for many years.  In partnering with them, it’s allowing us to empower our people.”

For the bank, this is a way to build bonds with community members.

“We are a relationship bank, and we want to establish relationships with the community,” said Sherri Harris, VP and Branch Manager of California Bank & Trust.  “What better way to start a relationship?  You give before you receive anything.  So we’re giving back to the community, and in turn we would like for them to establish a relationship with us, but that’s not a requirement.”

One of the many goals of the Park Mesa Heights Community Council is to educate the community on finances.

“We have been working really hard to promote financial literacy,” said Park Mesa Heights Community Council president Kahllid Al-Alim.  “This is just one aspect of it.  We’re making sure that people have their affairs in order by starting off the year by making sure that their personal income taxes are up to par.”

The community council is also partnering with the Junior Achievement of Southern California program, which seeks to inspire over 70,000 young people through financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship education.   

Park Mesa Heights Community Council meets on the second Saturday of the month at Young Empowered Scholars Academy, Hyde Park Elementary, 3140 Hyde Park, at 10 a.m.  Visit their website at www.parkmesaheights.org and follow them on Facebook.

California Bank & Trust is located at 3810 Crenshaw Boulevard.