During the last several years, the accounting faculty has looked at many service learning projects to help both our students and the Joplin community. Each idea had some good points, but nothing was quite practical for us. As it turns out, the right answer literally walked through our door!
When Anne Wolfe, an Accounting/CIS major, came into my office last August and told me she was an experienced VITA volunteer and asked if we wanted to start a program on campus, I knew we had found our project.
VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Through April 13, VITA volunteers will help people fill out their tax returns. It is totally staffed by MSSU students who have undergone training and testing in providing this service.
MSSU Accounting had sponsored a VITA site years ago at the Joplin Public Library under Jim Shaver. Students prepared tax returns by hand and if they had a question, they either used the pay phone or a donated cell phone about the size of small suitcase. Despite the lack of technology, the VITA students gained more knowledge, greater self-confidence, better interpersonal skills, and a real sense of professionalism than can be taught in the classroom alone. Unfortunately, lack of library space and Dr. Shaver’s passing in 2003 forced us to close the program.
Since then, thre have been some changes. We now “e-file” the tax returns and cell phones have gotten smaller, but the VITA program still offers our students the same chance to build those needed “soft skills”. More importantly, the VITA program at Southern provides FREE tax preparation and filing.
Last Saturday, a retired couple thanked us for saving them over $180 in fees from the year before! Our goal is to help students and working families here in the Joplin community receive any tax refunds they qualify for. This helps both those families and those dollars stay in the Joplin economy helping local businesses.
By David Smith
Department Head, Accounting & Finance