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VITA's Volunteers

April 4, 2013

For many Americans, April 15th is the most stressful day of the year—federal taxes are due.

Tax prep can be daunting and overwhelming, but not an impossible task with the right guidance.

This semester, 12 accounting students at BMCC wanted to give back to their communities by helping others file their taxes.

As members of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the Food Bank of New York, they have been preparing tax returns for low-income New Yorkers.

“VITA is a great program because it will give accounting students an opportunity to practice the tax law they learned in the classroom,” says Accounting Professor Angela Jervis. “This practical experience enhances their prospects for gaining employment.”

Jervis oversaw the VITA program at BMCC and Professors Corinne Crawford, Barry Cooper and Joel Barker assisted with the program and ran a workshop over winter break to prepare students for the IRS Basic Certification Exam.  One cannot volunteer through VITA without passing a certification exam.

“I took a Taxation course with Professor Barry Cooper, and it prepared me well for the VITA workshop,” says Shakirou Olatidoye who is working as a volunteer tax preparer at the Staten Island branch of the Food Bank. “The workshop wasn’t for everyone, and some people did drop out. You need to be very passionate about this field to pursue it.”

Great opportunity

Olatidoye, who passed his Basic Exam and plans to take the next two certification exams, uses VITA as his required accounting internship.

“It’s always good to give back, plus I like accounting and figured it was time to put my career in motion,” he says. “Participating in this program was a wonderful opportunity to gain experience in the field.”

Olatidoye says VITA also “looks good on a resume and is good for the morale of BMCC; since the program heads note which college each volunteer attends, and counts how many forms we process, individually.”

Self-improvement perks

“I think that volunteering in the VITA program is fantastic because it combines helping individuals and provides students with valuable technical knowledge and experience for their own self-improvement,” says Jervis.

Volunteer tax preparer Anny Compres agrees. She is currently working in Washington Heights through the VITA program.

“I really enjoy working with the people here. Many of them are from the Dominican Republic, and so am I, so we understand each other’s culture and they like that I speak Spanish,” she says. “They tell me I’m helpful and nice and they’re excited when they learn they’re getting money back from the government.”

Compres decided to pursue a career in accounting because her mother is an accountant.

“It can be hard and there are little rules that change every year when you file taxes,” she says, “but I want to be in this business and have learned so much.”

Vital skills

Professor Jervis personally likes that the VITA program for BMCC students helps them gain vital career skills, “such as interviewing, critical thinking and problem-solving techniques that would be beneficial for any future employment.”

She adds: “I also like that the students are trained to prepare tax returns of various complexity according to their level of certification.”

The 12 current BMCC VITA students are: Ibrahima Barry, Xueqin Chan, James Chin, Anny Compres, Raquel Diaz, Alie Dior Gueye, Yulam Mau, Adelina Maze, Shakirou Olatidoye, Raynier Perez, Mary Stix, Marlene Uraga.

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