The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Volunteer tax assistance program benefits community, students

GVL / Sam Nelson

At Grand Valley State University, there are many different programs for students to gain hands-on experience in their chosen field of study. Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), accounting students in the Seidman College School of Accounting are able to gain experience with real-world scenarios while providing helpful, accessible tax assistance for the community.

The volunteer-based VITA program provides essential services for those struggling to file their taxes, addressing common misconceptions and even acknowledging language barriers that cause difficulties for many members of the community. Through the VITA program, attendees are personally walked through any difficulties they are experiencing in filing their taxes. For many attendees, the VITA event further clarity about tax feedback and assistance.

Courtesy / GVSU VITA

According to their webpage, the VITA program is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and strives to provide tax assistance to low-to-moderate income and elderly taxpayers. Jacob Flickinger, a GVSU student and GVSU’s VITA site coordinator, said the program is a great opportunity for students who are able to utilize its resources. 

“GVSU’s VITA site offers students the opportunity to gain experience in tax preparation while also allowing them to give back to the local community,” Flickinger said. “Business students from finance to supply chain management have also reached out to help.”

The VITA program focuses primarily on growing and changing to better adapt to the communities they impact. From helping people discover tax credits they might not have been aware they qualify for, to assisting Spanish-speaking communities with student translators, the VITA program is continually implementing positive changes for the surrounding community.

“These individuals not only tend to struggle finding the resources and aid to prepare their tax returns, but are also entitled to many credits that they may not know about,” Flickinger said. “We help these individuals get the credits that they deserve and maximize their return.”

Flickinger said the tax assistance organization works with the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at GVSU to provide a translator in the event that someone’s English isn’t quite as strong.

“Not only did we implement more appointment slots, but we also worked together with the Spanish department here at GVSU to get volunteer student translators on site to help with Spanish-speaking individuals,” Flickinger said. “This allows us to reach a new part of the community that we couldn’t reach before and gives valuable translator experience to the students majoring in Spanish.”

The Kent County Tax Credit Coalition (KCTCC) is GVSU’s partner for the program. Brenda Brame, the Program Manager for United Way, which administers the KCTCC, said the coalition uses financial literacy education and VITA services to help low-to-moderate income families and individuals gain economic stability.

GVL / Sam Nelson

“Since 2002, KCTCC has assisted more than 118,000 taxpayers, refunding over $115 million in federal, state and local tax refunds back to Kent County,” Brame said. “Taxpayers report that their refunds are mostly spent on essential needs that contribute directly to quality of life, including food, clothing, housing and debt repayment.”

Brame oversees all aspects of the program from recruitment, training/certification of volunteers, development of new sites, volunteer appreciation and reporting. She said she has seen the positive impact on both student volunteers and the communities that they are serving.

“The students will connect with people from all walks of life. For those who are accounting majors, they will get experience in personal tax preparation,” Brame said. “The work they are doing saves lives in some instances and keeps people housed, utilities on and provides food for those who do not have it, especially if the taxpayers don’t qualify for state assistance.”

KCTCC’s final program report for the 2023 tax season included comments from community members that felt they were positively impacted by VITA.

“My parents dreaded tax time every year, as my mom works in a factory and my dad, before his diagnosis, was working in landscaping, so they didn’t make much money, ” said one quote from an assisted taxpayer. “Also, the experience of having to go and be ignored (is hard). My parents don’t often get treated well everywhere they go (for taxes), so it meant a lot to them to be treated so kind and like real people is a rarity. My parents left beaming and happy that not only did they not have to drop $300, they were also treated like equals. It was a 1000/10 experience for them and they will be returning next year. I’m thankful for you!”

The report also states that KCTCC and VITA have goals to provide more assistance for people with disabilities. Student volunteers involved in the program can make a difference in many community members’ lives, assisting with the difficult process of filing taxes in a manner that is more approachable and accommodating than typical tax services.

There is not a major-specific requirement to participate in VITA, so students of any major are welcome to apply. Students interested in participating in the program can fill out the VITA Student Volunteer form on GVSU’s VITA homepage

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