This tax season, low-income Kern County residents are once again receiving free help with their taxes from CSUB accounting students. Every other Saturday, students certified by the IRS are setting up shop at the Vida Scott Center in southeast Bakersfield as part of the IRS 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. When they are done with their training, they will be well recommended to top accounting firms.”
Clients must have made less than $50,000 in 2011 to qualify for the free tax assistance. They 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. Some of the volunteers speak Spanish, which helps them serve Spanish-speaking clients.
The United Way of Kern coordinates VITA locations around the county as part of the Kern VITA Partnership, which includes Community Action Partnership of Kern, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, Housing Authority of Kern County, Kern County Aging & Adult Services, and Kern Regional Center.
Rita Strickland, president of the University Accounting Association at CSUB, has been involved in the VITA program for two years.
“In doing this, I have had the pleasure of meeting the people of the community and helping them to understand tax procedures,” she said. “Some were overwhelmed at the fact that we provide this service for free with volunteered time.”
Fellow student “Annie” Cuiping Wang said she also appreciates the volunteer opportunity.
“Not only do I get the chance to practice what I learn, but also I feel closer to our community,” she said. “I give thanks to our accounting department at CSUB … (and) I also give thanks to our VITA coordinators.”
The VITA program continues until tax day, April 17. For all locations and hours, call 2-1-1, Kern County’s information hotline.
– Jennifer Burger, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator