North Central College accounting students are gaining valuable career experience while helping low-income DuPage County residents file tax returns.
To participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), North Central College students must first pass a rigorous VITA-certification exam that requires 24 hours of out-of-class time to complete. Once certified, students volunteer at Naperville-based Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry to complete tax forms for individuals with low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and below), elderly and non-English speaking taxpayers.
Students say while the work required to become involved in the program is intensive, the outcome can be incredibly rewarding.
“Not only do the students have an opportunity to apply their knowledge and work on effective communication, they also have given back to the community in ways that are not usually identified as community service.” says Allison Hayes, assistant professor of accounting and coordinator of North Central’s participation in the VITA program.
For VITA-participant Christina Richardson, a junior accounting major from Spring Valley, Ill., the part that makes all the hard work worthwhile is seeing the reaction from people she helps.
“Seeing their faces light up when we highlight their refund is truly rewarding,” Richardson says. “The fact that it’s of no cost to them has an even greater impact on students who volunteer with VITA. We are working with individuals who rely on these tax refunds, and that makes our work even more special.”
Working for the VITA program has academic advantages as well, and “reinforces the fundamental material learned during the classroom experience,” Hayes says. Richardson is experiencing these academic benefits firsthand.
“We are able to work with actual returns and gain real experience. That cannot be achieved in the classroom,” Richardson says. “It’s material that we are being tested on in class and then we are utilizing the information right away in the real world.”
Last year, North Central students filed returns for 305 taxpayers through VITA and helped them receive about $660,000 in federal refunds, Hayes says.