The Health and Wellness Resource Center is a one-stop hub where students at the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College can get advice, services and referrals to help they may need. Once a year, however, the center offers a special service not just for students but also for faculty, staff and the surrounding community.
Through its partnership with United Way of King County, HaWRC provides a free tax-assistance program known as VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) which is designed to help people who have limited income, have disabilities or have limited English language skills.
The program, now in its 13th year, is managed by UW Bothell accounting students in the Beta Alpha Psi – Mu Psi Chapter who, through UWKC, become tax assistance specialists certified by the Internal Revenue Service. The certification requires a minimum of 16 hours of training, passing an exam and signing a code of ethics. Leila Olson, an accounting professor at Cascadia College, provides specialized training to help students pass the exam.
Dodging a shortage
Orchideh Raisdanai, the accounting faculty adviser for the chapter and the tax program, said that due to staff shortages, there was a possibility that the tax service would not be offered at UW Bothell this year.
“Many thanks to Casey Lantz, UWKC outreach coordinator, for recognizing that our community relies on us,” Raisdanai said. “He worked to ensure we would remain open, part of which meant hiring one of our chapter officers as a site coordinator. We moved from concern over whether we could offer the service to excitement that, for the first time, one of our students is leading the charge!”
That student is Paul Oh, a Business Administration major who is studying both accounting and finance. As the tax site manager, he schedules volunteers for each shift and ensures that the program runs smoothly. He also conducts a final quality review on every tax form that gets filed on site, said Jo Blue, HaWRC manager. “It is a huge job to take on for anyone but especially for a student.”
Kathie Alfstad, a Kirkland resident, is one of the many community members who used the service this year. She wanted to have an extra set of eyes because when it comes to taxes, she would rather be safe than sorry. “The student I worked with was very congenial and polite. He was unafraid to ask for help when he got stuck or was unsure about something and that made me feel confident my taxes were being done right,” she said. “I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t take advantage of this program. I will certainly be back next year.”
Angeline Ndayikeza, a Business Administration major studying accounting, is president of the Mu Psi chapter. She said Alfstad’s response is representative of other comments she’s received. “There have been so many positive reactions,” she said. “A lot of people from the community are repeat customers, and they express so much gratitude for the free service. People often tell us when they leave how much more confident, and better, they feel about filing which is great to hear.”
Earlier this month, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene stopped by the tax preparation site to witness firsthand the generous investment these students are putting into the community. She was accompanied by Dr. Kristin Esterberg, UW Bothell chancellor, and Dr. Eric Murray, Cascadia College president.
DelBene was particularly impressed by the students’ service. “Recently, I had the opportunity to see the great work being done at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site hosted by the UW Bothell Health & Wellness Resource Center,” DelBene said. “This critical partnership between the University of Washington Bothell and the United Way of King County is providing our community with trusted tax assistance and support.
“As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I know how important these local services are to families who need them, and I want to thank all the volunteers and organizations who make this VITA site possible.”
The tax program doesn’t just benefit the people it serves as Ndayikeza said it has been highly rewarding for her, too. “It’s a great way for me to apply what I learn in my classes to the ‘real world,’” she said. “It’s also great experience that looks amazing on resumes and can help me to stand out in the job market. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”
Senior Zumrad Makhkamova, also a Business Administration major who is studying accounting and finance, feels similarly and said that for her, the benefit of being a VITA volunteer is having the chance to give back.
“I used to rely on United Way’s food services, and I vowed that I would give back to the community once I was able to,” she said. “When I heard about VITA, I knew it would be the perfect way to give back to the community that so generously gave to me. I really appreciate all that they do for those who are struggling, whether with taxes or food scarcity.”
Both Ndayikeza and Makhkamova made a point to thank Blue and Raisdanai who, they said, were “life savers on planning everything.”
Ndayikeza said they also want to thank Oh, who “has done an amazing job leading the site and making sure the volunteers are prepared and set up to help tax payers. Everyone in our chapter is so grateful to Jo, Orchideh and Paul. We appreciate all of their support and the opportunity to give back.
“It’s one of the many reasons we love being at UW Bothell — a school that invests in its students and its community.”