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Crunching Numbers for the Greater Good

April 15: Tax Day. A date many Americans dread. But for many Spokane County residents, Tax Day has become less painful thanks to Whitworth accounting students in the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) service-learning course.

VITA is a nationwide IRS-sponsored initiative that has grown significantly since its creation in 1971. For more than 10 years, Whitworth students have prepared local residents’ income tax returns from early February to April 15 at United Way and various AARP sites in the county.

In 2018, Whitworth students prepared nearly 5,000 tax returns (up 3 percent from 2017). Tim Henkel, president and CEO of Spokane County United Way, says the students’ work is indispensable.

"I look forward to the upcoming tax season as we continue to provide valuable volunteer experiences for Whitworth students to use their tax preparation skills by serving the community," Henkel says.

The students primarily serve the elderly, military personnel, immigrants and residents who qualify as low income. Last year, 13 IRS-certified Whitworth accounting students participated in the VITA program, including business administration major Jordan Cain '20.

"It was important for me to participate in a program like this because the typical college route in accounting is to complete your coursework and enter the workforce automatically," Cain says. "Through the VITA program, I got to be a crucial tool for the community, and I got to experience what it’s like to use your technical skills to give back. Accounting is often seen as a profession that is purely money-motivated, but this opportunity shows that our skills and resources can be used for a greater good."

Whitworth Associate Professor of Economics & Business Candice Correia says students often start the VITA service-learning course thinking it will help bolster their résumé, but they finish it inspired by how much their knowledge can help others.

"VITA empowers students to gain real-world experience and find new meaning," she says, "while at the same time helping so many in our community who cannot afford to hire a tax professional."