For many, the arrival of tax season means stressing over deadlines and filing paperwork, but for those at The Wayne and Roberta Colmer Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at CSUN, the arrival of tax season is just another opportunity to give back to the community.
Ameera Dharani began volunteering as a tax preparer for VITA four years ago when she was a sophomore accounting major. Now a graduating finance major, Dharani is the director of education and is in charge of recruiting and training supervisors and tax preparers.
“I like that VITA is a student-run program. We’re educating and preparing students as well as helping the community save thousands of dollars every year,” said Dharani.
Dharani said it is difficult being a full time student, a member of other organizations, and still contribute to VITA, but in the end it’s all worth it.
“When I first started, I helped an older woman and the look on her face meant more to me than anything in the world,” said Dharani. “Nothing compared to saving her money and doing voluntary service, it’s a great feeling.”
The VITA center began in 1971. It is designed to help low-income families and individuals who make less than $50,000 with free tax preparations.
The center faced financial trouble in 2004 and was on the verge of closing down when Wayne and Roberta Colmer, owners of Colmer Construction in Calabasas and CSUN alumni, saved the center by donating $75,000 in 2004.
“A friend told us over lunch that due to budget cuts, they would have to get rid of VITA. We had a good year financially in 2004, so the timing was just right,” said Wayne.
He said he hopes to continue funding and supporting the program.
“We’re very proud of being associated with the program. We benefited from the education at CSUN, this is our way of paying back,” he said.
Donna Watkins, program coordinator and advisor for VITA said there are about 21 sites serving mainly the San Fernando Valley. There is no site on campus, but they are hoping to get one for next year.
Student volunteers go through a 24-hour training session. The sessions are stretched out over three days with each session lasting four hours.
Students can receive between 2-4 units depending on how often they volunteer. VITA works with the College of Business and Economics and does class presentations encouraging students to volunteer, but volunteering is not reserved for accounting students.
“Although most of the students who volunteer are accounting majors, we’re open to all majors. VITA offers students more than units, it teaches students to talk to people and to ask questions,” said Watkins. “You need to be able to ask the questions that get you the information you need.”
For John Ferri, it was a classroom presentation put on by VITA that got him interested in training as a tax preparer when he first came to CSUN in 2005.
“When it got down to it and I was down at the site I realized I enjoyed doing taxes,” said Ferri.
Ferri is in his third year at VITA and is now an administrator, which he describes as being Watkins’ “right-hand man.”
Ferri said VITA is currently having problems attracting volunteers. They are concentrating on publicity and hope that through classroom presentations and word of mouth more students will volunteer.