Olivet College prides itself on performing service for others. From the weekend and week-long service trips to the dedicated Service Day each semester, service is a huge part of Olivet’s mission and students are urged to participate in their own way. Olivet College students in financial majors, like accounting, have found their niche to give back to the community by participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. In addition to providing a much-needed service to community members, the program also gives students a chance to hone their accounting skills in a true professional setting.
The VITA program is organized by the IRS and run by local volunteers across the country. The program is designed to provide free tax assistance to those who need help preparing their tax returns, such as persons with disabilities, limited English-speaking taxpayers, people who generally make $57,000 or less and senior citizens. The tax preparers are certified in tax law, and the forms are reviewed by at least two volunteers before being submitted to ensure accuracy.
During the 2021 tax season, Olivet students prepared 243 tax returns which generated over $297,000 in refunds. Thirty-three students participated in the program this year, and this is the sixth year OC students have volunteered with VITA.
Jackie Looser, assistant professor of accounting and business, said, “Olivet College has the concept of giving back to others at its core. This comes through clearly in our ‘Be More. Do Good.’ moto. Participation in the VITA program provides the opportunity for students majoring in financial degrees to utilize the skills they are learning while helping those in need increase their personal financial stability. Many of the individuals who students help in the VITA program need the refunds they receive to provide them with the basic necessities and to improve their quality of living.”
The ability to help others while also gaining experience in their field is a great benefit for students who participate in the VITA program. Rising senior Rachel Webb said, “I got involved with the VITA program during my first year because I wanted to get involved in my major. I wanted to see if I enjoyed the tax side of accounting as well. I am motivated to perform community service because it’s a good feeling knowing that I can help those who need help. They are always very appreciative of our work.”
Rising senior Kylie Polhamus added, “I wanted further insight on taxation, as well as to become more active in community service. Since my first year, I have been continuously motivated to perform community service as I see the positive impact of the VITA program on those we serve.” Kylie has also participated in the VITA program since she was a first-year student. This year, she was even named the VITA Volunteer of the Year Award for her leadership at Olivet College and the success of the program. After her graduation in May 2022, Kylie plans to sit for the CPA exam and wishes to continue her work with tax preparation.
The importance of the VITA program cannot be understated. Without access to local, affordable resources, many community members would struggle with the complexities of tax forms. “The process of preparing returns is very stressful and confusing to many,” Kylie said. “The VITA program is important as it helps relieve that stress. Many depend on their refunds to afford large expenses and necessities, so assisting the community with this is crucial.” Kylie is originally from Olivet and understands the impact this program can have on the local community.
Rising senior Trevor Savage also participated in the VITA program this past spring. He said, “We provide the community with a free tax service, whereas if they went to a tax firm, they would be charged a fee. The money they get from the return is what some people count on to help them in their everyday life. To help others with their taxes is very satisfying because with our help some people can now afford something they may not have had the money for.” Trevor also said he is looking into a career in the tax field, inspired by his positive experiences in the VITA program.
Real-World Skills and Real Outcomes
In addition to assisting the community, the VITA program also gives students experience and skills that will help them prepare for their future careers. “VITA is a great experience because we are gaining the knowledge of the tax side of accounting all while getting hands-on experience by working with real clients,” Rachel said. “We get to put what we have learned in classes into action in a professional setting.” After graduation, Rachel also hopes to sit for the CPA exam and plans to work in an accounting firm.
“As a basic preparer, I was able to gain knowledge in preparing returns by applying skills learned in the classroom to real clients, as well as applying interpersonal skills professionally with clients,” Kylie said. “This year I had roles as an advanced preparer and a site coordinator, which also helped me develop leadership skills that I will be able to apply in my future career.”
Professor Looser is impressed by the work her students and volunteers have put in, especially during the last year. “I could not be prouder of the dedication, professionalism and kindness students exhibited during the income tax preparation season.” Both Rachel and Trevor are planning on participating in the VITA program next spring.
For more information about Olivet College, contact the Office of Admission at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature was written by rising junior Bray Wright, marketing and communications student intern. She is an English major and writing minor, a scholarship winner of the Global Citizen Honors Program and a staff member of the Garfield Lake Review. A self-proclaimed storyteller, she plans on going into the publishing industry after college.