The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Administration recently completed another tax season. CBA students Virginia Calderon and Bryan Kirkebak participated in the program, helping people finalize and submit their tax returns.
VITA is an organization that prepares tax returns for low-income, working families and students for free. It began in the early 1990s at the UNL College of Law, but eventually moved to the service learning program about ten years ago. Since then Linda Moody, director of the service learning program at the UNL Center for Civic Engagement, has worked with students to direct the VITA program.
“This program is a tremendous community service project helping poverty stricken families and students’ development by building their confidence with tax filing and working with customers,” Moody said. “Students enjoy putting together tax returns and meeting members of the community.”
VITA volunteers prepare more than 1,200 tax filings a session and bring more than $2 million into the community through tax returns. They primarily serve UNL students and lower income families in the community neighborhoods around UNL.
Bryan Kirkebak, a freshman accounting major from Omaha, Nebraska, enjoys volunteering with the program.
“My favorite part is meeting with different people and forming those relationships. People will come back to VITA year after year and even request the same student tax preparers as the year before.” Kirkebak said. “We help veterans and people of all different backgrounds. Hearing these people's stories and seeing that we are making a difference is very rewarding.”
Students gain independent study credit for participating. They must complete an open book exam and receive a grade of 80 percent or higher to become certified to file taxes. They also must complete a four-hour software training course and participate in a minimum of ten two-hour time slots.
“This is my first season volunteering for VITA where I’ve done filings at many different sites. I also help with transmitting the tax returns, which is a quality review process to make sure everything is in order before we transmit it to the IRS,” Kirkebak said. “My grandpa, grandma and my uncle are all accountants. So being an accountant and helping others with their taxes just feels right.”
Virginia Calderon, senior management major from Grand Island, Nebraska, started out as an interpreter for VITA. Today she plays an essential leadership role within the organization.
“This year, I am in charge of getting the volunteers trained. I help students when they're doing their certifications, answer their questions, set up the site location schedule and I transmit the returns,” Calderon said. “I enjoy the interaction with the clients, especially seeing how happy they are to see the money that they will get back. You can tell they are really relying on that money and what a difference it will make in their lives.”