For nearly a decade, accounting students from Adelphi University have helped low-income individuals and families on Long Island prepare their tax returns. The students, working together with Bethpage Federal Credit Union, are part of a nationwide Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Each year, representatives from Bethpage make presentations to Adelphi’s Accounting Society, the student organization, and train volunteers in January, ahead of the tax season. The volunteers learn about tax laws, practice filing and get certified for the VITA program.
Traditionally, the volunteers, together with a professional representative, welcome community members in need of assistance at VITA sites in Nassau and Suffolk counties. However, this year, due to the pandemic, the program is online, with clients sending their documents to the organization and returns being assigned to different student-volunteers to complete.
This year, five Adelphi students are participating in the VITA program.
Gaining real-world experience and giving back
Jacqueline Zito, a senior accounting major and coordinator of the Bethpage VITA program at Adelphi, started volunteering in her sophomore year. Prior to her involvement in the program, she said she had no knowledge about the tax process. Now, the real-world experience she’s gained has not only provided her with new skills, but also changed her career path.
“This program helped me build a foundation in tax knowledge that gave me an advantage when I took my tax classes,” Zito said. “The VITA program looked great on my résumé and gave me something to talk about at my interviews. It also helped me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in tax as the program allowed me to couple my love of community service with my special knowledge of accounting.”
Chelsea Marchese, a sophomore accounting major, said she heard about the program during an Accounting Society meeting and has found it beneficial.
“The VITA program is a great way to gain experience in accounting,” Marchese said. “Participating in the program is very fulfilling because you get to help members of the community who are always very appreciative of your work.”
A first-time volunteer, Marchese said the experience has been great so far. “I am learning a lot of new information and gaining knowledge. Learning about all the tax codes and scenarios during training has helped me be successful in completing the tax returns I am assigned each week.”
“I think the program is a wonderful way for students to give back to their communities while at the same time learning how to prepare tax returns,” said Art Leibowitz, a clinical associate professor at Adelphi’s Robert B. Willumstad School of Business, who initiated the University’s involvement with the VITA program in 2014. “Participation in the program could enhance a student’s career opportunities, and will certainly be beneficial to them personally in the future.”
The Bethpage VITA program runs until May 24. Tax preparation services for low-income families are offered every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
To learn more about VITA, visit bethpagefcu.com/community/events/vita.aspx.