Taking the Toll out of Taxes

Date: February 04, 2014
Touro College accounting students participate in IRS-run training so they can offer volunteer tax assistance.
Touro College accounting students participate in IRS-run training so they can offer volunteer tax assistance.
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Marla Cohen
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When Touro College students ended their training in late January, they became qualified to perform what for many is a daunting task.

They will be ready — and enthusiastic — to serve as volunteer tax preparers. And doing so provides a great community service, while helping accounting students gain valuable workplace skills, according to both organizers and students in the program.

“When we started the program, I thought we would be able to help low income people get their refunds,” said Esther Robinson, a Lander College for Arts and Science (LAS-Flatbush) graduate who approached Touro’s office of career services last year when she could not find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site open on Sundays. Working with career services, she was able to start a program housed and supported at Touro’s Avenue J campus.

Robinson started the program as a way to provide a community service. What the accounting major didn’t realize was how much the Touro students would reap from the experience.

“I didn’t realize how much we were doing for our students,” she said. “One came back and told us he got a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the top accounting firms. It really helped him.”

Students will be providing the free tax assistance on every Sunday from Feb. 16 through April 13 except for March 16. Sessions will be held on the main floor at LAS, 1602 Avenue J, Brooklyn, and will run from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Last year, Touro students assisted approximately 130 people through the VITA program who had an average adjusted gross income of $17,169. Refunds from the Touro VITA program averaged $1,568, according to Robinson, with the total amount of refunds coming to $155,545.

This is the second year that Touro students, who come mostly from LAS-Flatbush, but also from Lander College for Men (LCM), and Lander College for Women (LCW) have assisted in the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. During the four training sessions students receive specialized IRS tax training and must pass a required IRS examination.

“Career Services has played a vital role in assisting in the initiation and providing on-going support for the VITA program,” said S. Ronald Ansel, director of career services, “An important advantage for the VITA student volunteers is the fact that they earn three credits for their participation in an IRS-certified internship program, which will greatly enhance their resumes. 

“Potential employers give preference to students who have undertaken internships during their undergraduate studies.”

Approximately 25 students have participated in the training, which ended in late January. The volunteer preparers consist mostly of junior and senior accounting majors from the three Lander colleges. They will serve a diverse lot of people seeking tax assistance, mostly from neighborhoods surrounding the Avenue J campus, such as Borough Park and Flatbush.

"This tax assistance program proved incredibly helpful to many residents, so I am thrilled to hear that Touro will once again be offering tax assistance this year,” said New York City Councilman David Greenfield. “In particular, it is fantastic that these great services are available at a convenient time right here in the community thanks to Touro College. Special thanks to the students and volunteers who are giving their time in order to make the tax season less stressful and for making this program a reality again this year."

Robinson sees the program becoming self-sustaining. Students trained last year have taken on substantial responsibility  and are coordinating it for new participants this year. This year’s site coordinators, Eliezer Dusowitz and Goldie Wercberger, both participated in the VITA training last year, enabling them to take a leadership role this year.

Yehoshua Bondy, a junior at LAS-Flatbush, is participating in the VITA program for the first time. He thought doing so would give him valuable experience, since he is considering going into the field.

“It allows me to have the ability to interact with clients,” he said. “This might be what I want to go into professionally. I like working with people.”

And there is an upside for the community, too, according to Bondy.

“It’s really beneficial for the lower income community, who might not be able to afford this,” he said. “And it’s a way for us to give back.”