Most college students can’t wait to hit the snooze alarm on Saturday mornings, but Taylor Sweeney ’16 is not one of them. From February through April, you can find Sweeney — along with 70 other Bentley University student volunteers — in Morison Hall, working diligently to prepare tax returns for low income and elderly taxpayers of Greater Boston.
Sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service, Bentley students who have completed or are currently enrolled in the Federal Taxation course through the accounting department have the opportunity to participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program — a service that assists eligible taxpayers by providing free tax return preparation.
While there are a number of VITA sites throughout the country and the Greater Boston area, students at Bentley have the opportunity to gain real-world experience right here on campus with the university’s own VITA program, run through the Service-Learning Center (BSLC).
“One of the main reasons why we offer this program on our campus is for the students’ benefit,” says Alan Freed, VITA program director and senior lecturer of accounting.
After passing an initial screening test that demonstrates knowledge of tax returns, students move on to a two-day training session that teaches them how to conduct the appointments. They’re also eligible to receive an additional fourth credit for their class (through the BSLC) if they complete 20 hours of service with the program.
“Students learn various tax concepts in their classes at Bentley, but this program gives them the opportunity to work directly with tax payers and apply what they’ve learned to prepare the returns,” shares Freed. “They get to put on their resume that they completed the program, which is of great value to them.”
The BSLC also believes that students’ community involvement outside the classroom contributes significantly to what they learn inside the classroom. As a result, many students use this opportunity to discover what areas of accounting interest them.
“As an accounting major, I wasn’t sure which area of the profession I wanted to go into,” says Sweeney. “The VITA program offered me the opportunity to have hands-on experience in preparing taxes and it was because of this exposure that I decided to pursue a specialization in taxation.”
Students that return to volunteer for the program for a second year also have the opportunity to become a project manager for the program, which means they take on additional leadership and organizational responsibilities.
(Read more about Why Service-Learning Is an Important Part of Education.)
In addition to providing a rewarding experience for Bentley’s student volunteers, the local residents who participate in VITA are especially grateful for the help they receive.
About 500 people participate every year — about 90 percent of which are repeat users.
“The tax payers that we serve absolutely love this program,” shares Freed. “They keep coming back because they love it.”
And while students enjoy being able to build their resume, they appreciate the opportunity to give back to the community even more.
“Providing the tax services for the residents that come to our VITA location is very rewarding,” says Sweeney. “Everyone is extremely grateful for the service we are providing.”
Interested in learning about other service programs offered through Bentley’s Service Learning Center? Take a look at all of their available programing.