Whitworth serves community through online VITA program

by Isaac Price | Staff Writer

Whitworth students are helping Eastern Washington residents file tax returns through an online process. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This spring, Whitworth students are continuing to provide free tax services to the eastern Washington community amidst the pandemic.  According to a March 5 press release, the Whitworth chapter of the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) has been serving taxpayers since 2007.  This year, Whitworth’s VITA volunteers are partnering with WSU to serve the community online.

VITA is a free program that benefits those who make $54,0000 per year or less, those with disabilities, the elderly and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need help preparing their own tax returns, according to its website.

The pandemic has brought new challenges to this experience which would normally take place in-person.  Accounting professor Candice Correia, who has served as Whitworth’s VITA faculty leader since 2013, noted that this year looks very different for the program.

“This year’s VITA work hasn’t been easy because we’re tweaking the process every week.  However, it still enables community members to get their taxes done and they are still able to interact with students through these new platforms.  Even though VITA doesn’t have the person-to-person touch this year, the heart of it is preserved in the digital format.” Correia said.

VITA gives Whitworth accounting students, like junior Isaac McDonald, valuable career experience.

“As an accounting major, I wanted an avenue to do some volunteer work that aligned with my major. I [also] thought VITA would be a great thing to do because I want to go into not-for-profit work as a career.  I thought working with the elderly and low-income taxpayers would be a beneficial opportunity to learn about that group more,” McDonald said. 

VITA volunteer Dylan Crump enjoys the service aspect as well.

“My favorite part has been the reactions from people of how fast we can get their tax returns done, especially with how much they struggle to do it on their own.  That alone is special to me,” Crump said.

 Students can earn between one and three credits as a VITA volunteer, according to McDonald. “I’ve learned a ton about how to file taxes and the insane intricacies of the field,” he said.

Giving back to the community during this trying time has been a great experience for many of the student volunteers.

“I think the overall impact of VITA is not just helping people get their tax returns right, but the solid connection between Whitworth and the community.  For the community to be able to know that people are out here ready to help whenever we can, however we can, is really great,” Crump said.

Even with this year’s challenges, Correia sees the program flourishing well into the future. 

“After this tax season, given our partnership with WSU, I see all sorts of opportunities I haven’t seen before.  I hope VITA grows and I hope we can help more people especially with this digital platform.  This year we’ve reached out to a lot of communities who don’t readily know us. We can market to them and now we have the ability to potentially help them.”

To learn more about the Whitworth-WSU partnership in VITA, visit https://www.wsuvita.site/.