Barry Mcnamara  |   Published June 03, 2019

Viva, VITA!

Volunteer income tax assistance program honored for its distinguished service to the region.
  • This year’s group of 38 Monmouth students who participated in the College’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. The program has served the region’s taxpayers for two decades.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – For two decades, Monmouth College students have helped prepare thousands of income tax returns for area residents. And earlier this spring, the program was recognized as one of the community’s assets, earning the prestigious Service Excellence Award at the College’s annual Highlander Leadership Awards ceremony.

The accounting department’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program – known as VITA – received the honor after another successful year that saw its 38 students prepare an even 1,000 returns, all free of charge.

“I was really proud to get the award,” said accounting professor Judy Peterson, who has coordinated the program for the past 20 tax seasons. “We had our annual ‘make a difference’ day at the end of the semester, and it was nice to be able to share the award with all of our students who volunteered in the program.”

In nominating the free tax-preparation service for the award, a member of the campus community wrote: “As a ‘town and gown’ program, none offers a greater opportunity to positively contribute to the timely needs of local residents and the education of the students involved than VITA. This recognition is not solely for students’ understanding of tax codes and laws but also for their understanding of the human condition and serving their clients in a respectful and professional manner.”

Peterson said that meeting and serving local community members is just as important as the students learning the details of income tax preparation.

“The program really opens their eyes and helps them understand people better,” she said. “They feel so good after they’ve served someone.”

Peterson said that one thing that distinguishes her students is their professional approach to VITA.

“The students really put forth their best, and sometimes that makes them a little nervous, because they want to do so well,” she said. “But as they get more practice, their nerves go away.”

Community members appreciate VITA, as 100 percent of those who filled out a survey this year said they would recommend the College’s service program to a friend.

“I would like to thank the students who volunteered and helped my family save family,” wrote one taxpayer who completed the survey.

Added another: “What an asset to our community. Thanks for all you do.”

The participating students were also surveyed about the program and gave it high marks across the board, with near unanimous ratings regarding the professionalism, responsibility and personal ethics required to complete the experience.

Students were asked to complete a reflection paper at the end of the tax season, and many mentioned appreciating the program’s teamwork element, as well as the critical thinking skills they gained.

In her reflection paper, Shannon Wilbourne ’22 of Chicago wrote: “The VITA program tested my professionalism, communication skills and empathy. The three were closely linked throughout the program.”

Wilbourne wrote that with Peterson’s help, she and her VITA partner reduced a client’s tax liability by roughly $900.

“The relief on the client’s face was clear,” she wrote. “That session is when I truly realized the effect that taxes have on our lives and the effect that the VITA program has on our surrounding communities.”

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