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Lending a Hand for Tax Season
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Lending a Hand for Tax Season

Someday, when tax season rolls around, Notre Dame College juniors Kevin Raleigh and Neil Hollada will be in high demand and receive hefty paychecks for their services. But this year, these two accounting majors earned a different kind of reward as they volunteered their time preparing taxes for the Cuyahoga Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Coalition.

The EITC Coalition, which is affiliated with a national organization called Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA), provides free tax preparation services for middle-to-low income tax payers eligible for the EITC. The EITC Coalition provides their service free of charge, enabling filers to keep the full amount of their refund, benefiting both families and the local economy.

The students were first invited to participate in this project in 2007. However, Natalie Strouse, an associate professor of accounting who coordinated participation of the NDC students, had just returned from a semester abroad as a Fulbright Scholar. But when the opportunity arose in 2008, the students jumped at the chance to take part.

As voluntary tax preparers, Raleigh and Hollada were required to participate in a basic tax preparation course taught by the EITC Coalition. Because of their exceptional performance in that class, they were encouraged to take part in an advanced course that covered issues such as how to deal with investments, how to prepare returns for international students and instructors, and how to work with people affected by the mortgage crisis.

Once the training was complete, the students jumped right in to help, taking their own appointments. According to Strouse, “They were meeting clients and preparing their taxes. There are accuracy checkers to make sure everything was correct, but there really was no one looking over their shoulders.”

The program officially kicked off on January 12, 2008 with an event called “Super Saturday” that brought out a number of tax filers and dignitaries, including Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.

Hollada and Raleigh served a variety of clients during their experience. “I worked with individuals, single parents and families,” said Hollada. “After seeing how the concepts I had learned in class could really help others, it inspired me. It was an overwhelming experience to say ‘I learned this and now I did it for real.’ It was a fulfillment of what I’ve done here as a student.”

“Getting a chance to help another person who couldn’t afford to pay somebody to do their taxes; that is something I’m really proud of,” said Raleigh.

Strouse was proud of her students as well. “I received emails about how great our students were. They showed that they were willing to work, stayed for all the time the site was open, and took on jobs as needed.”

Steve Ruic is the writer and editor for Notre Dame College.