SJU VITA Celebrates Its 20th Season
Students volunteer to prepare tax returns for community members.
Monday, February 11, 2013
PHILADELPHIA (February 11, 2013) - As tax season begins, Saint Joseph’s University’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) celebrates its 20th year filing free returns for the local community. Founded in 1993, this unique program trains Saint Joseph’s students in tax return preparation and then connects them with members of the community who are in need of their services.
Accounting Professor W. Richard Sherman, Ph.D., founded the organization at SJU as a way to link the University’s commitment to service with a need for tax assistance by members of the neighboring communities. Sherman coordinated SJU VITA for 14 years.
Accounting Instructor Dennis Raible took over coordination of the SJU VITA program in 2007. Prior to his arrival, tax software was loaded onto University PCs and required heavy updating. Raible mentions that the “use of a web-based tax software now gives the program much greater flexibility.”
On average, 50 SJU students, freshmen to seniors, volunteer one evening per week during tax season. The program serves approximately 230 taxpayers per year. Volunteers prepare one federal and at least one state income tax return for each taxpayer. This totals around 500 tax returns prepared each season.
SJU VITA provides a much-needed service to the neighboring community, and also offers an experiential learning opportunity for student volunteers.
Raible says that “more students are interested in volunteering than we can accommodate. Once selected for VITA, volunteers can return in subsequent years if they so desire. We’ve always had a very high return rate.”
Students are selected based on academic performance and recommendations by professors in the accounting department. Their four-week volunteer training emphasizes web-based tax software required to serve VITA customers.
“Our customers often remark how much they enjoy meeting and working with SJU volunteers. Most of our customers return to SJU year after year to have their returns prepared,” says Raible.
Brendan Gillespie, SJU senior, says, “Participation in VITA will undoubtedly help me in the future as it improves the skills that are necessary to communicate with others; as well as the technical skills necessary to complete a variety of tax returns with a range of IRS issues.”
”I am fortunate to be a part of a program that takes tax and accounting beyond the classroom and into a real-life setting,” Gillespie says.
VITA provides technical skills that potential employers look for on resumes such as: web-based tax software training, working with tax law and real-life meet-and-deal encounters.
Freshman Christine Wolfe volunteers with VITA “because it provides me with experience that many students have to wait until after college to receive.”
Saint Joseph’s University VITA will take place now through the first week in April, Wednesday and Thursday evenings 5-9 p.m. in the Accounting Department Offices in Mandeville Hall, located at the corner of 54th Street and City Avenue in Philadelphia. For additional information, please contact Dennis Raible at 610-660-1125 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.