Last year, MetroCASH coalition partners filed 2,093 tax returns, totaling $2,577,886 in federal refunds and $932,216 in earned income tax credits for Richmond area residents.

In addition to boosting income for individuals and families, the coalition helped save workers an estimated $418,600 in tax preparation fees.

This year, UR Downtown joined the MetroCASH coalition as a new IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site.

University students and local volunteers offer free tax help to anyone who earned less than $50,000 in 2011.

Formed in 2002, the MetroCASH coalition is a partnership of more than twenty social service, non-profit, faith-based, business, and government organizations in Richmond.

UR Downtown is among the few sites with easy access to multiple bus routes.

"We want people to feel more empowered and self-sufficient, and VITA can do that," said Kim Dean, Richmond Families Initiative and UR Downtown Program Director.

Sam Hensley serves as the new UR Downtown VITA Site Coordinator.

"In the short time that we have been open at UR Downtown, people have expressed thanks and praise for this site," Hensley said. "I feel our student volunteers have experienced the joys of civil service when thanked by grateful clients."

Student volunteers include two Bonner Scholars, Mackenzie Dean, '12, and Henry Trinh, '15, who serve at the site every week.

"I wanted to do my Bonner service where I could make a difference and at the same time connect to my intended major," Trinh said. "I feel that I am getting a head start on my accounting career by participating in the VITA program."

Other student volunteers have echoed the feeling that VITA is an extension of the classroom.

"I want to teach people in the community the things I learned in my accounting class," said Tamara Shanker, ’12.

For the remainder of this tax season, UR Downtown’s VITA site, which launched on January 31, will be open through April 12 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:45 to 6 p.m. and on Saturday, April 7 from 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

"A tax refund of any amount can help a family living on a fixed income," Mackenzie Dean said.

When this tax season comes to a close, UR Downtown will look forward to next year.

"We hope that the site grows every year so that more and more people benefit from our services," said Trinh.