By Kelcey Norris
Tax season is in full swing, and Youngstown State University accounting students gained real-life experience by offering free tax services to YSU students and Youngstown residents.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program is nationwide and gives tax assistance to those in need.
Raymond Shaffer, an accounting professor, said this is his 30th year working for the VITA program and it was established at YSU before he started.
“My specialty area is taxation. It’s what I teach, so it was kind of a natural for me to take this on. … I really enjoy it,” he said.
Shaffer said the VITA program allows students to take the program for course credit.
“It’s kind of like an internal internship,” he said. “The students win because they’re working with real people and real taxes, which complements the in-class work. They see both the theory side in class and the practice based outside of class.”
Shaffer said the program is a win-win for everyone involved since the services are free.
“When they come here, we like to call it a one-stop shop because they get their taxes prepared, get a copy to take home and their return is electronically filed. So when they leave, they’re done,” he said.
YSU international students are also encouraged to take advantage of VITA services, according to Shaffer.
“Our international students have a special tax form and a special tax return that they have to do that’s different from the average tax return,” he said. “We want all of our international students to come through our program because our students are certified to do that.”
Shaffer said it’s more than just a tax resource for the community.
“A lot of them have been coming back 10, 12 or 15 years, and it’s nice. … We see them every year, get talking and catch up a bit,” he said. “The people in the community really love it. They know that the students are learning, so they’re very patient.”
Marcy Grossen, a senior in the Master of Accountancy program at YSU, is one of the students working in the VITA program and said it provides experience outside of the classroom.
“It gives you real-world experience,” Grossen said.
The importance of the program lies in the historical significance, and according to Grossen, seeing the community members appreciate their time on Saturdays makes it worth the effort.
“A lot of people have been coming here for over ten years, and it’s really cool that a lot of them look forward to coming here and talking with us every year. A lot of them are alumni who come here,” Grossen said.
Jessica Flynn, a senior in the Master of Accountancy program, has spent every Saturday since January preparing for the VITA program.
“It’s interesting meeting the people who come in. We learn their stories and their backgrounds,” she said. “It gives us a new perspective on things because I’m not from around here. … It’s kind of cool to meet different people from a different area.”
Jenelle Dunkel, a YSU alumna, said her family makes VITA a fun-filled day downtown.
“We’ve always had really good experiences, and we come back every year,” she said. “It’s like a family event, and we go to breakfast. … It’s nice to come back to YSU and see the campus.”
Dunkel said she would recommend the services to other alumni and community members.
“It’s free; you can’t beat that,” she said. “Everybody is so nice, the professors and the students. They’re always very helpful. … It seems to run smoothly.”