Volunteer tax assistance program benefits community and students

Sophomore Javid Daniel gets a lesson in income tax preparation from Professor Susan Milstein and veteran VITA student volunteers Katherine Chen and Sophie Diven.
January 29, 2013

For Accounting professor Susan Milstein and her dedicated band of 35 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) students, tax season is in full swing. In this, the 22nd year of the program Milstein conceived and created, the 21 newcomers and 14 veterans are already training to help some 200 clients with income-tax return preparation.

It’s a program that produces winners all around.

“VITA is all that I hoped it would become and more,” says Milstein, a CPA whose tax preparation business is in its fourth decade. “Our VITA program helps our students, helps our community and helps our college.”

Volunteer tax assistance program benefits community and students Rooted in Milstein’s love for doing tax returns and desire to give back to the community, McDaniel’s VITA program serves moderate- to low-income families and individuals by having students help answer questions, prepare tax returns and file electronically. The students receive credit for training hours and time spent with clients. Certified public accountants, most of whom are alumni, volunteer at each of the 21 sessions to check returns and help students respond to questions.

Junior Katherine Chen, a Business Administration-Economics dual major from Fallston, Md., is overseeing the tax preparation schedule and has been volunteering since her first year at McDaniel.

“I get no greater joy than knowing that I've made a difference. This program gave me the opportunities to refine my organizational and leadership skills with hands-on practice with tax preparation – something I hope to build a career on,” says Chen, noting personal growth, a sense of accomplishment, and recognition and feedback from her professors as additional benefits of her participation with VITA.

Senior Sophie Diven has volunteered for VITA for the past three years for the experience of preparing taxes and working with people.

“After working with the program for the past few years, I have become much more comfortable walking into situations, not knowing how the parties involved will react,” says the Accounting Economics and Business Administration major from Timonium, Md. “Money is a private topic for many people, so you have to make the people you are working with trust and feel comfortable around you, also understanding that the topic is sensitive and they might react to certain situations differently than you would expect.”

Clients return year after year for help with their tax returns, and acting director of Financial Aid Ellie Geiman provides training in the computer side of electronic filing. Many of the McDaniel students who have worked with VITA have been hired by accounting firms immediately after graduation due in part to their expertise in tax preparation.

Volunteer tax assistance program benefits community and students
Acting director of financial aid Ellie Geiman helps VITA first-year student volunteers understand how to file taxes electronically.

The student volunteers, Milstein says, are never the same again.

“They mature and find it so rewarding to help people who really need it,” she says.

VITA is open to individuals who earn $35,000 a year or less and families with earnings of $50,000 a year or less. Tax help sessions are 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Feb. 12, 14, 19, 21, 26, and 28, March 5, 7, 12, 14, 26, and 28, April 2, 4, and 9, and noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 16 and 23, March 2, 9 and 30, and April 6.

Appointments are required and scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. Call 410-871-3344 or ext. 3344 on campus. Leave a message and someone will return your call. To contact VITA via e-mail: vitatax@mcdaniel.edu.