KILLEEN — Texas A&M University – Central Texas students are answering the call to service by volunteering with United Way of Central Texas’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. VITA provides free tax preparation for qualified households.
Assistant Professor of Accounting Dr. Ran Li is leading the VITA initiative for the university. She emphasizes that service learning in general benefits the community.
“Our area needs competent general accountants and tax accountants. With the IRS VITA program, our students can step in and help the community, while gaining real-world experience,” she said.
Jenifer Dernehl, a junior pursuing her bachelor of business administration in accounting, first heard about the program in class and jumped at the opportunity to get field experience and work with the community.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to apply the concepts I’ve learned in class and taking what I’ve learned from this accounting degree and using it to help people,” Dernehl said.
Although there might be a misconception that accounting and taxes are “very dry,” the subject of personal finances is a private and often vulnerable matter she added.
“It’s mathematical, but it’s a very personal experience for people. Federal tax finances can produce a spectrum of emotions in people. They’re nervous or they’re worried,” Dernehl said. “I wasn’t expecting it, but sometimes you’re offering words of encouragement. You’re letting them know that it’s going to be OK, that they’re facing it. They should be proud that they’re here taking care of it.”
Priscilla Kim, an accounting graduate student in her last semester admitted she was a little nervous when she first signed up to volunteer, but the support she received from the university and United Way of Central Texas encouraged her.
“It’s recommended you test for the Basic certification your first year, but I was able to pass (Basic, Advanced, and Military) certifications,” Kim said. “So I am able to volunteer three days a week and build career experience.”
She first heard about VITA through her career mentor at A&M – Central Texas Dr. Li who recommended the program because of the experience Kim would gain and what it would add to her resume.
Finding opportunities to develop her skills has been a challenge as Kim’s schedule as non-traditional student and mother of two keep her busy. But VITA has been a good fit for her.
“Some people ask, ‘why do you do this for free’ but I’m doing this because the experience is important to me, and I really love helping people,” Kim said.
For more information about VITA tax preparation services visit https://uwctvitacalendar.as.me/schedule.php.