Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program at SJU Marks 25 Years
Friday, February 23, 2018
by Becky Hartman '18
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) at Saint Joseph’s University has achieved its 25-year mark of preparing and filing tax returns free of charge for qualifying individuals in the surrounding community. As an IRS-sponsored program, VITA provides SJU with tax software and training materials for student volunteers who serve close to 325 taxpayers each year, primarily people who earn $54,000 or less, those with disabilities, and those who have limited English-speaking skills.
Visiting accounting instructor Dennis Raible, CPA, coordinates the 3.5-month long VITA training program. Approximately 55 sophomore, junior and senior accounting majors serve in the program. Students are eligible to participate after their freshman year and are chosen by the accounting department based on their academic standing.
According to Raible, the program is distinctive because it offers the students an opportunity to engage with community members in an experiential learning environment.
“It’s a different dynamic,” says Raible. “The students are working with and assisting people outside of the University, and those we serve rely on us to provide professional-level services and secure their refund.”
Run from the third floor of Mandeville Hall on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5 to 8:30 p.m., the first four weeks of the program consists of volunteers learning about tax law, IRS procedures and the tax software. In the ensuing eight weeks, students prepare tax returns.
“Becoming a volunteer has enabled me to meet so many amazing people, hear their stories and make genuine connections,” says Samantha DiSipio,’19. “It’s also a great way to meet and network with other SJU accounting majors.”
Within the past five years, the program has integrated new software that includes greater IRS insight. According to Raible, health insurance plans have made preparing tax returns more complicated, but the software effectively helps students stay on track with its informative diagnostics.
Not only does the program reflect the University’s Jesuit philosophy of reaching out to the community, but it also provides volunteers with a realistic application of skills that they may use in future careers, notes Raible.
“It’s good for our students,” he says, “because when they enter the job market with this experience, accounting professionals all know VITA. This type of experience is seen as a valuable addition to a resume.”
Volunteer tax services are available to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8:30 p.m., starting March 1 through April 5. For more information or to set up an appointment, call 610-660-1125.
For tax assistance, contact Dennis Raible at 610-660-1125