In 2010, Felician University Professor Joseph Lizza, MBA, CPA, CGMA, saw a need to give his students real-world experience and to offer them opportunities to engage in the Felician Franciscan mission of service. Thus, the idea to become a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) partner was born.
The VITA program at Felician University offers free tax assistance for the local community. It primarily serves low-income residents, senior citizens, persons with disabilities and taxpayers who speak limited English.
All VITA volunteers must pass a rigorous certification course administered by the IRS. Professionals from Professor Lizza’s firm, Lizza & Associates, oversee the process and provide guidance to the student volunteers.
Professor Lizza and two students first began their collaboration at the Rutherford Library and served approximately 40 clients at that time. VITA at Felician University is now entering its sixth year of service. It has grown from a small initiative into a well-known community resource.
The program has outgrown its original location and is now held on the Felician University campus. Volunteers from three additional area colleges also participate. In 2015, Felician University volunteers assisted approximately 250 clients at no cost. Professor Lizza anticipates that number growing to 300 residents this year.
VITA is a high-impact practice that is designed to aid the local community, but it is not just the taxpayers served that have benefitted from this program. Professor Lizza describes the pride he feels when he sees his volunteers thrive during their tenure in the VITA program and says, “In our continued commitment to the community through the VITA initiative, volunteers build tremendous experiences and gain extremely valuable skills which are necessary for an easy transition from the academic setting to an employment setting.”
Students who begin their training often feel fearful and insecure but they leave their last day of service as confident individuals who have clearly gained a thorough understanding of the income tax process. They have strengthened their operational and people skills. They have become a valued part of a team.
More information about Felician University’s VITA program can be found at: www.felician.edu/events/vita-free-tax-preparation-program-1