Students Prepare 77 Tax Returns as Hands-On Learning Service to Community

April 21, 2017

Prof. Al Beatty: ‘I’m so proud of these students!’

By Tax Day — April 18 — Wilmington College students prepared their 77th tax return for an assortment of persons ranging from those with disabilities or limited English-speaking skills to those with lower incomes, persons re-entering the work force after incarceration, and widows and widowers whose late spouse previously completed their forms.

(PICTURED) Senior Wesley Pierson, an accounting major from Lynchburg, works on a tax return at WC’s VITA site, along with Tara Karnes, a senior accounting and marketing major from Greenfield, and Aubrey Richardson, a junior business administration and accounting major from Wilmington.

The nine, IRS-certified, volunteer tax preparers offered this service free-of-charge as part of the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). This winter, the IRS rated Wilmington College VITA site a perfect 100 percent.

In fact, so impressed was the IRS with WC’s student tax preparers that it recommended the group assist a man who was four years behind on his tax returns. Al Beatty, assistant professor of accounting and an IRS enrolled agent and site manager, explained the man suffered from depression and endured so many hardships, including estrangement from his family, such that he couldn’t muster the “emotional strength” to complete his taxes for several years — even when qualifying for a refund.

“We prepared the taxpayer’s returns for 2013 through 2016 to help him with noncompliance with back tax issues,” Beatty said, noting that the man’s newly enhanced financial stability will allow the IRS to work out a payment plan for his back taxes. “The man was sincerely touched by our service — he actually broke into tears at one point.”

Beatty said the students’ tax preparation service is another manifestation of the “service orientation” endemic in Wilmington College’s Quaker values.

“I’m so proud of these students!” he said.

“They worked every Tuesday and Thursday night, with a few Saturday mornings, well past the time of any classes and sometimes as late as 9 p.m. — to get the job done,” Beatty said. “And they did this without pay and without complaint, in spite of some challenging circumstances.”

Beatty added that his students are not only learning about tax preparation, but they also are developing customer service skills, time management skills and an ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

He said the experience is already paying dividents for graduating seniors interviewing for employment.

Tara Karnes, a senior from Greenfield, served as the VITA site’s student leader.

“VITA has truly given me the hands-on learning experience I needed to decide about my career plans,” Karnes said, noting this experience combines concepts learned in the classroom with how they can be applied out in the world. “We are interacting with clients, organizing tax documents and preparing returns — plus, along the way, we are getting to help persons in the community that many of us grew up in.

“It has been a great opportunity to learn things about myself and grow as a person, as well as a professional.”

All nine student volunteers have passed at least three levels of IRS certification. Several also took Beatty’s tax accounting course during the fall semester, as well as additional training over their Christmas break. Based on the success of this year’s program, many of the students are interested in receiving advanced training so WC’s VITA site can offer services for more complex tax returns next year.