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Jeff Allen ’20 and Morgan Renard ’20 put their accounting skills to good use as they work with a client, joining a community effort to help lower-income individuals complete their tax returns.

Students Provide Tax Help to Community Members in Need

Completing income tax returns may not be high on the list of fun things to do for some, but it was one of the highlights of the spring semester for students in classes taught by Amy Vandenberg ’85 (Accounting).

St. Norbert College joined a community effort this year in which students helped lower-income individuals complete their returns free of charge at the Brown County Central Library or The Salvation Army in Green Bay. Students met with clients during one-hour appointments, after which supervisors, including Vandenberg and professors from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, signed off on the returns and completed the filing process. The program was part of the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) initiative. 

“I love it. I’m a person who likes personal contact and seeing who I’m helping, so this is right in my wheelhouse,” Reilly Chard ’20 told @St. Norbert earlier this semester. “I had two internships that involved a lot of sitting in my cubicle and performing task work. There wasn’t any face-to-face connection like this.”

The VITA program was forced to close as both colleges went online in response to the spread of COVID-19. But during the first half of the spring semester, VITA clients booked appointments between 5 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, with students typically completing three or four returns every session depending on the complexity. Sticking points usually involved documentation needs, such as when a client forgot to bring in a rental certificate or a dependent’s Social Security card. A dozen or so students worked mostly in pairs on each return.

“It’s nice because it provides some collaboration,” Chard noted, “and it doesn’t take as long with two sets of eyes looking at it.”

While the free tax service was a volunteer activity, students still earned a full four credits for their VITA: Voluntary Income Tax Assistance course.

“There are a lot of factors that are good about this – credits are part of it – but also the personal growth and helping people in the community,” commented Joe Fazio ’21. “I had an internship where I learned a lot and I’m glad I did it, but I was not able to put a name or a face to the work. I was just fulfilling orders. What’s great about this is how appreciative every single one of the people are.”

An experience of service-learning in community
Most of the returns were relatively straightforward because the clients’ incomes were not high enough to benefit from itemizing deductions. However, applying for tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Homestead Credit were important steps in the process.

“The students do the legwork, and then we, as the supervisors, check over the return and do the filing,” Vandenberg explained. “It’s been an unbelievable experience for the students and so good for them to do.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of my students. Watching my students deal with their clients – the under-served population – was incredible. They really stepped up. They treated everyone with respect and dignity. They listened with compassion. One student listened to a client share her cancer experience. When the return was complete and he stood to shake her hand and escort her to the exit, she asked for a hug. I can’t teach that in a classroom setting.

“It was an amazing experience and I am so grateful SNC supported the course offering. I was so proud. I wish their parents could have seen them. I know as a mom ... it’s how I hope they treat others. Our students represented SNC: communio at its truest meaning.”

March 23, 2020