PNC Students Volunteer for VITA Program

Vita Students

Front row: Kristin Spoelhof, Gina Bentivenga, Ashley Savin, Kari Ricard, Erin Musgrave
Back row: Brent Jarnecke, Kathryn Holmgren, Craig Marcum, Jennifer Gabrysiak, Andrea Kingery, Sean Wildfang, Tom Holets

Eleven Purdue University North Central Accounting students recently completed another successful year serving in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

This is the 25nd year that PNC junior and senior accounting students volunteered their services. Working under the direction of Thomas Holets, PNC continuing lecturer of Accounting who has administered the program for the past 10 years, the students devoted their Saturdays from Feb. 22 until April 5 to provide this free service to the community. Three VITA alumni also assisted with the program. Client numbers have steadily increased through the years and the program now e-files all tax returns. This year Holets and his group served more than 100 clients from the community. The total only indicates those tax returns actually completed.

According to Holets, each year some taxpayers do not meet the VITA criteria set forth by the IRS and  are counseled and referred to other agencies.

“I am proud of my students,” said Holets, “This was an extremely challenging season because of all of the weather issues. They pulled together as a team with flawless results.”

Some comments offered by satisfied clients include: “Awesome people;” “ very friendly and get my returns done in an orderly fashion;” “will be back again next year;” “it was friendly and everyone was professional;” “we really appreciate the fast and careful service we received;” “this is a wonderful service for the community.”

On the final day of the course, Holets holds a dialogue session with the group to reflect upon the impact that their service had on their own learning as future professionals and members of the community.

Kristin Spoehlhof, one of the members of the team remarked, “I enjoyed the VITA program. It offered hands-on experience while earning college credit. My favorite part was getting to know my classmates and helping the community prepare their taxes for free.”

Gina Bentivenga, added, “We learned theory in the classroom, then got to apply it through the VITA program.”

Brent Jarnecke, said, “I felt that the VITA program was a very rewarding experience due to not only the knowledge we gained that will be applied to our future careers, but more importantly I appreciated the interaction with the public. Let’s be honest, tax season is generally not a very happy time for most people, but I was amazed at how friendly and kind most of the clients were. The fact that it is a free service and that we are able to help lower income individuals, makes it even better. The people truly appreciated what we did for them. I believe that many of the VITA programs around the country are independent of a college or educational institution, and to be able to link PNC to a positive outreach is an honor.”

New this year was the added support of the United Way. “We were fortunate this year to have the support of the LaPorte County United Way,” said Cynthia Roberts, dean of the PNC College of Business.

“David Sisk (manager of Community Investment for the LaPorte County United Way) and his team were able to help improve our scheduling so we could more efficiently help clients, with a goal of increasing the capacity of the site to serve a greater number of taxpayers.”

Two Americorps students currently serving with the United Way, Mark Keen, Michigan City and Alex Buchanan, Rolling Prairie, played a key role in coordinating the project. Planning has already begun to increase services next year by soliciting help from volunteers in the accounting profession as well as others from the community in more supportive roles.

According to Sisk, “With help from AmeriCorps and the PNC students and faculty, the VITA program helps put money in people’s pockets. It does not charge fees for those who have earned less than $52,000. That savings, plus the savings of not having to pay to cash their tax refund thanks of our collaborations with local banks and credit unions, helps improve the financial stability of these families. We hope to grow the VITA program and serve more people in need as we expand our collaboration with Purdue North Central.”