This tax season, low-income Kern County residents are receiving free help with their taxes from CSUB accounting students. Each Saturday, 12 students certified by the IRS are traveling to areas of the county as part of the United Way of Kern’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). The program gives students work experience while also giving back to the community.
“The students are hands-on working with the clients and processing their tax returns,” said Sonia Morentin, administrative support coordinator for the CSUB School of Business and Public Administration, and VITA coordinator. “Local firms are preferring that they take the VITA course and get volunteer experience. They’re more likely to get hired with this background.”
The process is very organized: Clients are first welcomed by volunteer greeters, then interviewed by the on-site coordinator who then assigns them to a volunteer tax preparer to process their returns. CSUB students are serving as both greeters and tax preparers; Morentin herself serves as an interviewer at one of the sites. Many of the volunteers, as well as Morentin, speak fluent Spanish, which helps them serve Spanish-speaking clients.
Altogether, the United Way of Kern is operating 15 VITA locations around the county with 75 total volunteers. CSUB students are mainly stationed at Kern County Housing Authority offices in Arvin and Bakersfield, Community Action Partnership and Kern Regional Center. Clients must have made less than $48,362 in 2010 to qualify for the free tax assistance.
“VITA is solely based on volunteers and the CSUB accounting students are key in expanding our VITA program so that more individuals now have easy access to free tax preparation,” said Jan Lemucchi, Director of Communications and Marketing for United Way of Kern.
CSUB senior Melody Armijo says the experience has helped her not only get practice preparing tax returns, but also learn customer relations skills.
“It’s good to give back, it’s great to put on my resume, and it’s a good learning experience as far as how to deal with different people,” she said.
The VITA program continues until tax day, April 18. For all locations and hours, call 2-1-1, Kern County’s information hotline.
– Jennifer Baldwin, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator