by Kelly Burns & Kieran Rock
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, also known as VITA, is a tax volunteer program run by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
According to the IRS website, VITA volunteers “receive training to provide free tax help for low-to-moderate income families who need assistance preparing their tax returns.”
The MC chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honor organization for financial information students, participates in the VITA tax program right here in the Bronx.
Gino Giglio, a graduate student and the president of Beta Alpha Psi has been involved in the program since he was a junior.
“I have been the coordinator of Manhattan’s participation in the program for the past two years,” Giglio said in an email.
As a junior, Giglio became certified and volunteered for the program before taking over coordination as a senior.
“Coordinating involves being in charge of all the logistical aspects of participation – ensuring students are trained, working with students to make sure they participate, planning transportation and liaising with UNHP whenever necessary,” Giglio said.
This year, Giglio took over the certification course and passed the coordination of the program on to John Fiore, Beta Alpha Psi’s director of community outreach.
“As the Director of Community Outreach for Beta Alpha Psi, I help coordinate the involvement of Beta Alpha Psi’s members in this program. I register volunteers on the University Neighborhood Housing Program’s (UNHP) website to volunteer every Wednesday and Saturday during tax season,” Fiore said.
According to the UNHP website, the organization is a nonprofit “working to create and preserve affordable housing and bring resources to the Northwest Bronx.”
Fiore believes the VITA program is central to the mission of Beta Alpha Psi.
“Community service is one of the central components of membership in this historic honor society,” he said. “We saw VITA as a great way to give back to the local community right here in the Bronx. Furthermore, since the majority of students in Beta Alpha Psi are accounting majors, they are familiar with tax preparation already. This is a great way to utilize the talents of our members to serve others.”
According to Giglio, the process of volunteering is extensive.
“First, volunteers must participate in a two-hour basic tax law training course offered by Manhattan College,” he said.
This course was previously taught by professors in the School of Business, but this year Giglio has taken over the administration of the course.
“The course teaches students some of the fundamentals of tax law, including filing statuses, deductions, credits…as well as some of the tax issues specifically relevant to the low-income taxpayers they will serve, including the earned income credit and taxability of social security benefits,” Giglio said.
After students complete the course they must pass three IRS certification exams.
“Once volunteers obtain this initial certification, they attend a six-hour on-site training session provided by UNHP, where students are introduced to the logistics of the program and are trained on the tax software,” said Giglio.
Jacob Fishkin, a member of Beta Alpha Psi, thinks the VITA program is an important way of reaching out beyond the MC community.
“Although this is one of the requirements for Beta Alpha Psi, I believe it is important as a student to not only reach out to the internal community, but the external community as well,” Fishkin said. “We are part of the Northwest Bronx community and it’s great to give back whenever we can.”
Giglio continued to share that volunteering for the program is very applicable to his career aspirations.
“As someone who is going to be working in tax after graduation, I saw this as an opportunity to gain a base level of tax knowledge,” said Giglio.
In addition to his career goals, Giglio went on to discuss how interesting and rewarding this line of work is to him.
“Volunteering for VITA is incredibly rewarding work. As a volunteer, you get to provide a service for people in desperate need of it,” said Giglio. “Tax preparation is an expensive service that nearly all of the people we serve cannot afford. Being able to put our skills and training to use to help someone obtain something they could not have without your help is extremely gratifying.”
Giglio also thinks that the student volunteers who participate in the VITA program are contributing to the Lasallian values of the school.
“Participating with VITA is in complete alignment with the Lasallian Catholic mission of service to others,” he said.