The VITA program, sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service, provides free tax preparation services for people who make less than $55,000 a year. The program was founded in 1971 and has expanded to thousands of sites across the country in the last 48 years.
“We encourage our accounting students to take advantage of the VITA program as part of their experiential learning requirements,” said Jody Nations, accounting instructor at SAU. “We believe that it is such an important experience that students can now earn course credit for the training and volunteer hours.”
This year, Halie Evans, Dioseline Mancera, and Tiffany Marabanian completed 40 hours of training and passed four exams to become IRS-certified VITA preparers.
During the 2019 tax season, the trio worked Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Magnolia’s BancorpSouth—the designated VITA site for Magnolia. Collectively, the students prepared 51 tax returns for people in the community and performed approximately 90 hours of volunteer work as part of the program.
“Volunteering with VITA and going to school at the same time has been a great experience for me. I was able to use what Ms. Nations is teaching me in my individual tax class this semester,” said Dioseline Mancera, senior accounting major from Magnolia. “I’m able to connect what I’m learning at school with real life. Taking the individual tax class and volunteering at the same time with VITA has been extremely helpful because I’m being able to use right away what I’m learning in class. After this experience, I feel more comfortable working with other people as a team, and I believe that the accounting professors at SAU are doing a great job getting us ready for the real world.”
The Magnolia VITA site prepared more than 120 individual tax returns—mostly for people over the age of 60, according to Nations. Statewide, VITA volunteers performed 911 returns in 2019.
“Having the ability to gain this experience is a large advantage in the accounting field, due to needed work experience to enter into this competitive working environment,” said Tiffany Marabanian, senior accounting major from Lake Village, Arkansas. “I personally applied for the VITA program to gain more knowledge in a field that I am wanting to permanently enter after graduation. Taxes are a very complicated field that changes from year to year, and as a new entry to the accounting field, I wanted to ensure that I can personally do the demanding work that a tax preparer is required to do.”
According to Nations, the students gain valuable experience they can use on their resumes for future internships and jobs, but they also gain real-life experience just talking and working with the public. “It’s valuable from that perspective,” Nations said.
“I feel that this program is a wonderful way to both help the community as a whole but also for students who are interested in tax to gain a better understanding of what is required from them,” added Marabanian. “This is a challenging program because you are working with everyday people. What you do affects their life; this is not just a simulation that a professor has deemed suitable for their class.”
Dioseline Mancera is a junior at SAU and recently received an internship at Murphy USA, headquartered in El Dorado, Arkansas. “Her experience with VITA certainly helped build her experience, and she plans to be a part of the VITA program next year as well,” Nations said.
“Our hope is to increase the number of volunteer hours we contribute next year,” said Nations, “To do that, we will need more volunteers.”
Nations is already working on a partnership with South Arkansas Community College to increase the volunteer capabilities in El Dorado, Arkansas.