Over the past five years The Richmond Promise has manifested into reality. One of the commitments University of Richmond’s strategic plan urges students, faculty and staff to uphold is, “a determination to engage as a meaningful part of the Richmond community.” Dr. Ray Slaughter, associate professor of accounting, brings this commitment directly into his class experience.

For the past three years Slaughter and his federal taxation course students have partnered with the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement to volunteer at UR Downtown for the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), a free tax preparation service for people with an income of $52,000 or less a year. “The students receive 10 hours of training and must pass the IRS’s exam to be a certified volunteer,” he explained.

Slaughter intends for his students to get crucial practical experience with clients in solving their problems with viable solutions. “I hope this will help my students not only to prepare for their public accounting careers with the opportunity to apply their skills in a practical setting, but also to find enrichment in giving back to the community. I want them to feel joy and fulfillment from helping people with what they’ve learned in the classroom.”

Several of Slaughter’s students described their experience volunteering with VITA.

Emily Lopes, ’14, an accounting major, shared, “It’s great that the accounting department is involved with VITA. As accounting majors it can be difficult to envision how we can use our skills to give back to the community, and this is a great example. I looked forward to the client interaction experience and practicing my accounting skills in the real world.”

Ryan Carter, ’14, a business administration major with concentrations in accounting and management, also enjoyed the client interaction. “It was nice to get to know someone while working through their taxes with them. It meant a lot when a client left with a smile on their face. I know this experience will help me tremendously in my accounting career.” 

Michael Woitach, ’14, an accounting major with a concentration in international business, found going to VITA put his learning into context. “It was extremely rewarding to be able to help people using the concepts we learned in Dr. Slaughter’s federal taxation class. It also got us off campus meeting people we’d otherwise never meet.”

Lopes added, “It’s so easy to stay within the Richmond bubble, but VITA gets us all downtown to experience a part of the city we don’t always see. We’ve done tax returns for people from all walks of life, from those living in homeless shelters to those pursuing doctoral degrees. It really gave us a unique perspective on the Richmond community. Over time VITA became so much more than a class requirement; I looked forward to meeting new people during each of my shifts. I hope the accounting department continues to be involved with VITA so that more students can have the same experience I did.” 

Kimberly Dean, program director of UR Downtown, looks toward VITA’s future. “With the students’ help we hope to continue to expand our hours in order to serve more clients as well as bolster our financial literacy offerings. Broadening our offerings means expanding the opportunities for the students’ learning while deepening our community commitments. Our site would not have come as far as it has in such a short time without Dr. Slaughter and his students’ dedication.”