When tax season began on January 29, the MetroCASH staff from the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg had been hard at work for months. There was new software to learn, training to prepare and deliver, paperwork to file, and materials to gather. In early January, students in Dr. Ray Slaughter’s Federal Tax and Dr. Joyce Van Der Laan Smith’s accounting classes went through extensive training required by the Internal Revenue Service to volunteer as tax preparers and CASH coaches.

MetroCASH is a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that provides free tax preparation services for families and individuals with an income of less than $54,000.

This tax season marked the seventh year of UR Downtown’s partnership with the United Way. UR Downtown serves as one of MetroCASH’s 15 tax sites across the region. Out of 197 community volunteers, 70 were University of Richmond students who volunteered more than 930 hours of service this year. As a coalition, MetroCASH was able to file more than 3,400 returns and refunded over $2.5 million to area customers.

"Working with the VITA program allows the students to engage with members of our community to provide a much-needed service," said Cara Cardotti, MetroCASH’s THRIVE collaborative manager. "This is a hands-on volunteer experience where they can learn how to prepare accurate returns for themselves and our community members."

Accounting students volunteer as a class requirement, but for many, it means a lot more.

Volunteering with VITA is a chance for students to reach outside the University and get to know the community around them. "It is easy to forget that we are still part of a larger community. This program certainly reminded me of that, and I think that it has the same effect on others," said Zoe Ready, 18.

"I love to see the progression with students," Cardotti said. "I get to see them at the beginning during training where they are learning tax law to pass the certification tests and during the season where they are applying what they learned and interacting with customers."

For Jeffrey Choi, ’18, participation in VITA re-inspired an ethic of service.

"My experience at VITA sparked something within me to use the knowledge and skills I gain in accounting to help the community," Choi said. "Doing work like this would provide more meaning to my accounting degree and future experience while working in the field."

VITA is also an opportunity for students to gain a level of comfort with their upcoming careers.

"Participation in the VITA program is arguably one of the most beneficial things I took part in during my senior year," said Noelle Graff, ’18. "Next year, I will be doing some work in tax with my firm and while the returns I prepared during VITA are very different than the returns I will be working on with my public accounting firm, being able to familiarize myself with tax-code in a real-world setting made me more comfortable to start my full-time job."

For Graff, the VITA experience was also about giving back to the University community. Each season, UR Downtown hosts several on-campus tax days for students and employees to take advantage of free filing services.

"One of the things I have grown to love about this school in the past four years is the hard-working employees who never fail to make you feel welcomed," Graff said. "I am glad that I had a chance to do something for some of these people who do so much for the students here, and keep a smile on their face while doing it."