Students in the College of Business are putting their accounting skills to use by helping local community members in need of assistance.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a program sponsored and run by the IRS, serves the local community by offering free tax preparation for those who qualify. Taxpayers who generally qualify make $54,000 or less, have a disability, or have limited English speaking abilities.
Instructional Assistant Professor of Accounting Liesel Mitchell is one of the volunteers and one of the site coordinators of the VITA program in the Bloomington-Normal area. Last fall she trained nearly 100 students who will be volunteering this spring. “I conducted four small training sessions to help students prepare simple tax returns,” said Mitchell. “The students then have to take a certification test before they can volunteer at the VITA site.”
Mitchell explained that the students have to be able to understand taxes well enough to explain them to a client. Students work with a variety of people in need of help, including non-English speakers, and those with disabilities. “We had an older gentleman, probably in his 80s, and his eyesight was so poor he was having trouble reading and filling out the form,” said Mitchell. “One of the student volunteers sat down and read every question on the four-page form and filled it out for the gentleman.”
Along with helping underrepresented populations, students are gaining lifelong skills, such as practical experience doing tax returns and professional interaction with clients. When volunteering at a VITA site, the students also have the opportunity to work with accounting professors outside of the classroom, talk about career paths, and even get help with accounting homework when there is downtime. “It also looks great on their resume,” said Mitchell. “I’ve had a number of students say it came up in interviews and made a difference in them getting job offers.”
Find more information on the VITA program.