Student Volunteers Contribute to Record-Setting Year With Tax Prep Program

For the fourth consecutive year, Manhattan College business students partnered with the IRS to provide free tax preparation services to low-income families in the Bronx.

This spring, a small, nondescript room inside Fordham Bedford’s Refuge House became a classroom.

There were no chalkboards or teachers or tests, but inside, Manhattan College students were learning the fundamentals of tax preparation by meeting with real clients, sifting through W-2s and looking for deductions.

This working classroom is a product of the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and its beneficiaries extend well beyond the students. As of March 19, nearly 1,300 low-income residents and families who use the program’s free tax preparation services through the Bronx’s University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), received $1.9 million in returns — an all time high in the program’s six years of operation.

Not only are students putting the hours in, but they’re impacting the community. It fits with school’s mission of Lasallian service.

Manhattan College, in partnership with UNHP, Fordham Bedford Community Services and Ariva Inc., returned for the fourth consecutive year, and 31 Jaspers, including many freshmen in the Arches learning-living program, actively contributed to this year’s success, logging 330 volunteer hours — more than a third of UNHP’s total hours.

“The program is something that Manhattan College really believes in,” says Jumelia Abrahamson ’09, UNHP program and outreach coordinator. “Not only are students putting the hours in, but they’re impacting the community. It fits with school’s mission of Lasallian service.”

For accounting major Diana Polanco ’14, the choice to help out was simple.

“First, I like to volunteer. Secondly, I would be able to help lower-income individuals, like my family members, save money by doing their taxes,” says the Washington Heights native. “Thirdly, I wanted to learn how to file an income tax return.”

In the spring, Manhattan College certifies its volunteers through a training program run by Gregory Bucci, CPA, visiting instructor of accounting. The course reviews basic tax forms and the standard code of conduct before students attend a TaxWise software training session to learn how to fill out commonly used electronic tax forms.

Then the real training begins.

“In class we learn theories, but while participating in the program we actually fill out returns and are working hands-on,” Polanco says, recalling a challenging return for an out-of-state worker. “If we make a mistake it affects the client and there may be a chance that the IRS audits their return. I realized that I make a big difference in people’s lives.”

Aside from gaining the technical knowledge, many returning volunteers say the experience has improved their overall patience, communication and attention to detail.

“They are able to use those skills and simultaneously provide our local residents with a much-needed service,” Bucci says. “The tax preparation and client contact helps our Manhattan College students greatly as their careers begin to take shape.”