By Ally Napier
Ally Napier is a first-year master’s of accounting student at the Eller College.
I’ve had so many incredible experiences during my time at Eller and I am so grateful for all of them, however I’d like to share one experience that I believe has been particularly impactful for myself, but also for the community.
For the last three years I have been involved with the VITA Program. VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is a community initiative led by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona that offers free tax preparation services to low and moderate income families and individuals throughout Southern Arizona. The first year I volunteered I had such an amazing experience. Out of all of the philanthropies I had participated in, VITA was a truly unique experience. As a participant in the VITA program you are able to immediately see the tangible results of your effort. I worked one-on-one with individuals and families and when a I finished a return and the amount of their refund popped up, the clients are as grateful as if I had just written them a check out of my own pocket. As a volunteer to know that you played even a small role in truly helping a needy family is an amazing experience and one that has a real and lasting impact. In addition to the personally gratifying experience VITA provides an opportunity for professional growth as well. Volunteering gives students an opportunity to have a hands-on, real world experience in a low pressure, low risk environment, which is one of the biggest benefits to student volunteers. Not only are students learning about individual and small business income tax (a skill even a non-accountant can benefit from!), they are also having the valuable experience of learning how to interact with clients face-to-face. There wasn’t a single job interview I went on that didn’t provide me with an opportunity to talk about my experiences as a tax preparer. After the first year volunteering I was hooked! I became very passionate about the program and I knew I wanted to somehow contribute in helping the program grow. I knew that if I could find a way to effectively spread the word on-campus about the VITA program there would be a lot of willing volunteers. To make participation even easier for students, I became certified as a trainer and offered the classes required of VITA volunteers on-campus. Last year over 400 volunteers put in over 5,700 hours preparing returns. Volunteers from the UA on-campus training program contributed over 5% of the total hours volunteered last year! With these hours the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona VITA collaborative was able to prepare well over 10,000 returns bringing back almost $18 million in refunds. I’m so hopeful for the coming tax preparation season. This year we had over 45 students certified through the on-campus training program and I’m confident that our volunteers are more dedicated than ever and I can’t wait to see the huge impact they’ll make in the community this year. I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to be involved in the VITA program and I look forward to many years of participating and helping the program grow in our community. Top photo “Accounting” by Zadorozhnyi Viktor/ Shutterstock.com.