People waited in a line that wrapped around the corridor.
No, it wasn’t the line for Starbucks or In-N-Out. It was the scene at CSUF’s VITA site a few years ago. CSUF’s student-run VITA, which stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, is one of the many IRS-sponsored VITA sites across the country that helps low-income families prepare their taxes for free.
“I was just floored,” said Kathleen K. Wright, professor of accounting who advises the VITA program on campus. “We had teams of volunteers working as hard as I’ve seen anyone work. It was all handled in such a professional manner. I had not seen students perform at that level ever.”
VITA is back for its fifth year with about 120 IRS-certified volunteers. It expects to help more than 300 clients over the next few months.
“It really makes me feel like I’m contributing something,” said Eliseo Cabrera, a senior in finance and accounting and VITA president. “I have a chance to talk to clients. I know that they have financial hardship paying the rent or bills. By helping them not be so stressed about their taxes, we are helping them and being a service to the community.”
When VITA first began, it had 35 volunteers and completed 60 tax returns. In its third year VITA exploded to about 100 volunteers, which is about the size of a regional CPA firm, according to Wright.
“VITA really catches on with students,” Wright said. “It’s not only a chance to volunteer but also to be trained on tax returns and how to deal with the public. In a classroom you sit and learn tax rules. It’s dry. But sitting with a taxpayer and figuring out what goes on the return is something different. The process becomes alive and you learn the practical application of what you’ve been seeing.”
In April 2009, CSUF won “VITA Site of the Month” award from the state Franchise Tax Board, whose representatives happened to be visiting the day clients wrapped around the corridor.
“I was so impressed and proud and so were the people from the Franchise Tax Board,” Wright said. “‘Yes, you do deserve to be VITA Site of the Month,’ they said.”
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