RIT Accounting Student Volunteers Assist Families in Need with Tax Returns

Every year during tax season, student volunteers from Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology provide free tax return services to families in need through a program called VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) offered by Creating Assets, Savings & Hope (CASH), a Rochester non-profit. CASH “empowers people in our community seeking financial security by offering free, year-round tax advice and preparation, financial education programs, and consultation,” as their website states.

According to Carolina Estrada, Volunteer Program Manager for VITA, since 2002, CASH has facilitated over 191,000 tax returns for families in need, with total tax refunds amounting to over $303 million. In addition, they have secured over $146 million in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) benefits for working families.

Olivia McDonald, a finance and accounting student, learned about the program in the fall of 2023 when a CASH representative came to speak at a Next Generation of Accountants meeting, of which McDonald was president. She signed on right away, and training began in December.

“We had three training sessions at the library in Rochester, and we had to read several modules,” recalls McDonald. “Then we did a few practice returns. After the training we had a big onboarding session.”

CASH took care of setting up appointments with clients and also at the library. The volunteers then signed up for shifts convenient to their school schedules.

For McDonald, the experience has been both educational and rewarding.

“A lot of people thank you because they don’t understand the intricacies of a tax return, and this is a massive weight on their shoulders. And they rely on these refunds. Usually, they’re getting sizable refunds they need to feed their kids. It’s pretty common that they’ll do a handshake and then pull me in for a hug.”

Students are encouraged to participate in CASH’s year-round volunteer service as part of the experiential learning opportunities offered at Saunders. Many volunteer positions are available, including front desk support, CASH advisors, and tax preparers. No accounting experience is needed to participate. 

Those interested in taking part may contact Carolina Estrada directly to learn more about volunteer opportunities at CASH. The rewards can be unexpected.

“I had a mom and a daughter, and it was a Monday night, pretty late,” recalls McDonald. “The daughter says, ‘I’m going to draw you.’ She colored it and signed it at the end. It’s on my fridge right now.  It’s the little things like that that make this a good experience.”

Accounting programs at Saunders integrate the newest technology with traditional business principles to teach a broad skill set that will benefit students in their practice. Alongside the #1 in New York State management information systems program, Saunders accounting programs ensure students are trained in and have experience with accounting information systems. Saunders offers an undergraduate program in accounting and an accelerated dual degree in accounting, an MBA and MS in accounting and analytics, and advanced certificates in accounting and financial analytics.

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