Money in Their Pockets

students from the VITA program

Students in the VITA program went out to dinner together to bring the program to a close. Photo courtesy of Joy Middaugh.

Through the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, students help local residents prepare their taxes

by Tony Moore

Tax time. It’s stressful, it’s frustrating and it makes people fill up the Internet with horrifying rants. But 10 Dickinson students made the experience a lot more bearable this year for dozens of local residents through their participation in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, managed locally by the United Way of the Capital Region.

An extension of the national United Way’s Money in Your Pocket campaign—a community collaboration of organizations that serves local low- and moderate-income families—VITA offers an invaluable service: People who can’t afford to pay someone to do their taxes can bring them to trained VITA volunteers and get them done for free.

“It was great to see how spending just a few hours of my time each week to participate in this program really had an impact on people,” says international business & management major Mike Hughes ’15. “Everyone that we worked with was very patient and appreciative, and it was rewarding to hear that I was actually helping people in the community.”

Hughes and the other Dickinson students who volunteered for the VITA program went through an in-depth, months-long training program, after which they took (and passed) a certification exam. The preparation materials included hundreds of pages of IRS manuals, so gearing up for the project was challenging, but it was fulfilling on more than one front.

“When I saw that this program would not only be a learning experience for me but also help those who may not otherwise have been able to have their taxes prepared, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” says Jake Phillips ’17 (undeclared).

Yoon Choi '15 (international business & management, economics) also saw the project—through which Dickinson’s students ended up helping more than 60 individuals prepare and file their taxes—as a dual-pronged opportunity.

“I was excited about meeting new people and improving my communication skills,” he says. “And I was glad to be able to help people reduce their financial burdens to some degree, even as a college student.” 

This is the second year that Joy Middaugh, a licensed CPA and visiting instructor in international business & management, has coordinated the VITA program at Dickinson, and she emphasizes that the impressive workload is worth every moment.

“It's a huge investment of time, but students gain great experience,” she says, noting that students invested between 70 and 80 hours of their own time in this civic-engagement project, which culminated with weekly sessions with tax clients held at Carlisle’s Employment Skills Center. “In my profession, I know people who can help me with certain arenas in my life, but the people who really need the help don't tend to have those networks and connections. And that's who the students are helping.”

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Published April 24, 2015