Seton Hill accounting and business marketing major Emilee Janocko celebrated her 21st birthday with her fellow volunteers at the Westmoreland Community Action Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) tax site in downtown Greensburg. That hadn’t been the plan - she’d arrived at the office for a small party to celebrate the end of tax season. As soon as she arrived, however, she started getting cards, and it wasn’t long before her supervisor appeared with cupcakes bearing “21” candles. It was the perfect ending to an experience she’d begun with some trepidation.
“This is my first year with the program,” Emilee says, “I didn’t know what to expect. My advisor suggested I participate with the VITA Program as my accounting internship. I had heard of it before, and I was interested in learning more about taxes to see if it was something I enjoyed as part of an accounting career, so I agreed.”
“Students bring a lot of energy to the tax site.”- Kiandra Foster, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania
VITA is an IRS initiative that is coordinated locally through Westmoreland Community Action and the United Way of Southwestern Pa. It provides community members who need assistance in personal tax preparation with a place to meet with volunteers, who have been certified through the IRS to assist with tax preparation and filing.
“I had a great experience!” Emilee says. “There were so many people who were grateful for our services, and I enjoyed helping our community through the program.”
Seton Hill’s Accounting Program has been providing VITA with qualified volunteers for many years. (Associate Professor of Business Gary Hypes finds the IRS certification process so worthwhile he has all of the students in his Principles of Taxation course go through it even if they don’t intend to volunteer.) Seton Hill students who are participating in the project for internship credit devote at least 120 hours to helping prepare taxes.
In 2018, four Seton Hill students volunteered. Two (including Emilee) worked directly with community members preparing taxes, and two served as “greeters” - helping people sign in and fill out their intake forms prior to sitting down with a volunteer.
“Students bring a lot of energy to the tax site,” says Kiandra Foster, Program Manager, United for Families, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “They benefit from working with community members they wouldn’t necessarily interact with, and it’s a great career development opportunity.”
Robin Hypes, the Program Coordinator for Westmoreland Community Action, is also a Seton Hill student. She is studying hospitality and tourism with a minor in accounting.
“It is great to have this opportunity to work with the Westmoreland County community and also my fellow students at Seton Hill,” she says. “Sometimes being an adult student that’s not on campus 24/7 you feel a disconnect … The VITA program gives me the ability to reach out and be involved and to have that connection and feeling of being ‘part of this family.’ Working for WCA is such a pleasure and wonderful experience. I get to see first hand how we help the community and the thousands of lives we touch each and every day.”
Marisa Valotta ’18, Seton Hill Creative Writing Major & Marketing Communication Intern contributed to this story.