Manhattan students volunteer as tax preparers

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Manhattan College student Gino Giglio is a self-described “tax nerd.” When he is not watching a New York Mets games and other favorite sports teams on television, he is reading the latest issue of CPA, a professional journal for certified public accountants.

“I am more interested in tax than the average college student is,” he said.

Giglio is the volunteer coordinator for the 48 Manhattan students who volunteer as tax preparers for the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, known as VITA, at the Northwest Bronx Resource Center. “I became interested in the program because of my interest in tax,” he said.

The project is a partnership between Manhattan’s School of Business and the Northwest Bronx Resource Center’s University Neighborhood Housing Program to provide free tax prep to low-income families. The program is also a way for Manhattan students to gain professional experience.

Giglio recalled his first day as a volunteer tax preparer three years earlier. He worked on four or five returns and he was able to help one family get a $1,500 refund.

“It makes you feel good about what you are doing, too, because you are able to provide a service to people who really need it. It was that feeling coupled with my interest for tax that kept me involved for the past couple of years,” Giglio said. He attends the business school’s five-year joint bachelor’s and MBA program and will graduate in May. This year, he moved into the role of coordinator and oversaw volunteer training, wrote and curated materials and arranged for transportation to program’s office.

Aileen Lowry Farrelly, assistant dean and assistant professor at Manhattan’s School of Business, serves as one of the faculty advisors for Beta Alpha Psi, an international honors society for accounting, finance and information systems and works with the students in VITA.

“It’s true to the Manhattan College mission and our mission is to serve and help. And this just gives the students great experience,” Lowry Farrelly said. “Students are saying that… [they] learned a skill where they can help someone with my education.”

Through the honor society, Manhattan College volunteers completed three IRS VITA certification exams—Code of Conduct, Intake/Quality Review Standards and Basic Tax Law.

“It’s been great to see what the students can actually do and help to contribute to UNHP… to see how the community has embraced that and how we are bringing awareness around predatory services that pop up during tax time,” said Jumelia Abrahamson, University Neighborhood Housing Program’s resource center director.

Abrahamson is also a 2009 Manhattan graduate and reached out to her alma mater for Jaspers to volunteer as tax preparers. VITA also has student volunteers from Fordham University, Lehman College and Monroe College.

Because of the assistance of student volunteers, Abrahamson said the program expanded the number of people it served. In 2009, UNHP’s moved from assisting 330 households to nearly 1,400. The additional volunteers also freed up staff to provide information sessions on topics such as examining credit reports and getting out of debt.

Since 2010, student volunteers from all participating schools filed taxes for more than 9,000 families, said Manhattan College in a statement. In 2016, with support from UNHP partners and 38 Manhattan College students, the program’s volunteers prepared 1,555 returns and helped Bronx residents receive $1.9 million in fee-free refunds.

The volunteer tax-assistance program provides its services free of charge to qualified families with an income of $54,000 or less and individuals with a gross income below $30,000. Tax filers who have an income of $64,000 or less can also prepare their returns online alongside a tax professional.

After the tax season is over, Abrahamson said staff members are still on hand to work with residents if they have follow-up questions.

“It’s about students getting hands-on experience and giving back to the community where they already live in… To see the richness in the neighborhood and then to actually contribute to helping to preserve some of the income during tax time [is important],” Abrahamson said.

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