This tax season, 288 taxpayers in Sweetwater, Florida, got the help they needed to prepare and file their 2007 tax returns, thanks to a group of tax-savvy Florida International University students who participated in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), VITA offers free tax help to low-to moderate-income people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. To qualify for the program, 26 students—twenty from the College of Business Administration and six from the College of Law—took the necessary training and certification exam, then held multiple sessions in Sweetwater.
Steven Vogel, visiting instructor, School of Accounting, served as faculty advisor and helped coordinate activities with the
School of Accounting, whose director, Sharon Lassar, offered “encouragement and moral support.”
As part of the program, the students worked closely with three Sweetwater VITA site coordinators, including Katrina Valiente, who has overseen the completion of more than 900 tax returns in the past three years.
“Working with the students was a privilege,” she said. “They were always motivated to help and gave a 100-percent effort.”
According to Lassar, participating students earned extra credit for the accounting course of their choice.
“This provided added incentive and reward for a great group of students who volunteered their time and talents to help others handle the often-daunting tax preparation task,” she said.
VITA volunteers help a community and gain career insights.
Asma Hood, a senior majoring in accounting and management, found participating in VITA to be rewarding and motivating.
“I was debating whether to pursue a career in accounting or taxes,” she said. “But after the VITA program, the choice seems clear. What can I say . . . I like figuring taxes!”
She added that “while what we did for the people in Sweetwater seemed so simple, it was always greatly appreciated.”
A special VITA volunteer recognition ceremony was held on the University Park campus on May 7, 2008, during which Ana M. Raposo, senior tax consultant with the IRS office in Miami, thanked the students and site coordinators.
“You all worked hard this tax season to provide a valuable service,” she said. “I am sure the university is very proud of the caliber of students you are setting forth to represent your school. And I would like to thank you for our valued partnership and hope to continue to bring free tax preparation services to the residents of our county by providing more students the opportunity to reach out and lend a helping hand to those who need it the most.”