This spring, students in Dr. Joyce van der Laan Smith’s Introduction to Financial Accounting class left the classroom and travelled downtown to work as CASH Coaches with clients of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site at UR Downtown.

"So rarely do we get a chance to practice theories and rules that we read in textbooks and in classrooms," said accounting major Joanna Dela Merced, ’17. "While the class is quite challenging, reinforcing what I’ve learned through the class in my volunteering with VITA has been extremely rewarding."

Now in its fifth year, VITA at UR Downtown is one of 13 sites throughout the Greater Richmond area serving with the MetroCASH Coalition, a program of United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg.

"Through our partners at the United Way, the students learned not only about the services available to VITA clients but also how to work with people," van der Laan Smith said. "So, in addition to providing a service to the community, the students had the opportunity to interact with clients allowing them to develop the interpersonal skills that are an important part of much of our work in business."

In addition to serving as CASH Coaches, students are also working as Tax Preparators and Greeters. Students in Dr. Ray Slaughter’s Federal Tax I and Federal Tax II classes have been key contributors to the site’s success for the past five years.

Last year, the site submitted more than 230 returns and processed $225,233 in refunds for Richmond residents. Although the final numbers have not yet been announced, business has been steady throughout this tax season.

"Clients continue to return from previous years, and they are so appreciative," said VITA site coordinator Tena Reynolds.

This year, the site has held regular hours at UR Downtown and also added several opportunities for on-campus clients.

"I’ve had so many incredible and interesting conversations with the people I was helping," Dela Merced said. "If it weren’t for VITA, I would have never been able to meet these fellow Richmonders. I feel like I’ve gained a new perspective of the Richmond community that I have never seen or experienced before."

Beyond personal connections and practical skills, VITA gives students the opportunity to see tax theory come to life.

"I saw first-hand people using tax deductions to help them do things like go to school. Seeing tax ‘in action’ was one of the most rewarding parts of VITA," said accounting major Robert Nogay, '17.