Three Benedictine College students are using the knowledge they’ve gained in class to give back to the Atchison community. As volunteers for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, they are providing basic tax preparation services free of charge.
The VITA program is available to those who make $54,000 or less or persons with disabilities who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. During February and March, the students filed 35 tax returns with refunds totaling $24,578. “VITA allows many people who may have considered it unaffordable, to have their taxes prepared,” says sophomore Mary Claire Peterson. “Oftentimes, as a result, they receive a refund.”
The students heard about the hands-on volunteer opportunity through their tax accounting professor. For out-of-state sophomore, Catherine Hegarty, it was a way to get to know the community. “I really love it. I’m able to apply what I’m majoring in and feel like I’m making a difference in my home away from home,” she says.
Junior Michelle DeBry agrees. “I was interested in this opportunity because of the overall experience I would receive in the tax world, as well as the chance to interact and serve the Atchison community,” explains DeBry.
Catholic Charities began offering the VITA program last year in Leavenworth. Due to the positive response, the program expanded to Lawrence and Atchison. During February and March, a combined total of 174 returns were filed. “To date, those returns have generated $150,385,” reports Isaac Uzcanga, Lead Program Specialist and VITA Coordinator. “That’s money going back into the community.”
The program would not be possible, adds Uzcanga, without the support of volunteers.
“I can tell this program is important by the gratitude that has been expressed by everyone who has participated,” says Peterson. “They always say how thankful they are that we are able to offer this service.”