Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Student Organizations: VITA Pro Bono Tax Services

Earlier, I profiled one of the three pro bono legal service opportunities available at ASL.  Today, I profile the second pro bono program offered by students to area residents in need of low cost legal services.  Later in this series on student organizations, I profile the third opportunity -- title work for the Great Eastern Trail project.

The ASL Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax preparation to local Buchanan County residents and fellow students with low income (below $53,000) or special need. Fellow students train incoming students during the fall semester.  New students become IRS-certified volunteers in the spring semester. 

With guidance from faculty supervisor, Professor Alan Oxford, and our community coordinator, Linda Midget at People's Inc., VITA volunteers give back to our community and gain hands-on tax experience.

Benefits of the VITA Program

VITA offers many great benefits to the volunteers, clients, and the community. Law students who volunteer with VITA gain hands-on experience working with clients.  They develop client interviewing skills, learn quickly to form trusting relationships, apply the professional ethic of keeping client information confidential, and learn about their neighbors in the community. Of course, many of the volunteers join because of their interest in taxes or tax law. They learn about various tax credits and the basics of filing taxes.

Clients who receive assistance through the VITA program gain cost-free tax preparation and the opportunity to meet their law school neighbors. Some clients have special needs, which may require more attention from a law student volunteer.  The program allows them to get that extra attention from patient students who go slowly through the process with them.

The Buchanan County community gains a valuable resource for its citizens through the Appalachian School of Law VITA program.  Students and members of the community interact in ways not otherwise available. Residents help students learn.  Law students, who are here only 3 years, develop deeper ties to the community and learn more about the history and culture of this Appalachian region.

The Vision Statement

The VITA vision statement provides:
The VITA program at ASL aspires to provide a much needed service to the Buchanan County community in which we all have joined. Providing a link between the students and the community encourages a mutually beneficial relationship in which the students gain practical experience and the clients receive free tax preparation. Each tax season our goal is to assist all of our clients to the best of our ability and to provide students with a broad understanding of taxes and client relationships.
The Mission Statement

The VITA mission is: 
To promote awareness within the legal community, the student body, and the local community of income tax concerns, issues, and problems confronting low-income families; and to serve the community and the school by actively engaging Volunteer Income Tax Assistance as set out in the Internal Revenue Service.
Membership is open to any student enrolled at the Appalachian School of Law.

2014 Update:  VITA has best year ever.

1 comment:

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