Volunteers with Buck$Back, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program available to Bucks County residents, have been helping taxpayers file their taxes for years. They help taxpayers claim earned refunds and credits without paying exorbitant filing fees for ten years! But the program has provided an unexpected benefit for the volunteers, as well: the experience makes a resume shine.
Warminster resident David Schuler, a student in the MBA program at La Salle University, is entering his third year of service as a VITA volunteer. He is confident his experience with Buck$Back is helping him pave the way to a successful career.
“My volunteer experience at Buck$Back helped me get two internships and over $10,000 in scholarships,” said Schuler. “Most importantly, it showed potential employers and scholarship committees that I was serious about entering the field of accounting. I had experience working with taxes and on a team.”
Volunteering with Buck$Back also proved to be a valuable work experience for Tom Bolick, a recent Penn State graduate who has completed the CPA exam. He spent the 2013 tax season working for Buck$Back while he was job searching.
“It is absolutely worth your time if you have the opportunity to do it,” said Bolick. “Tests and homework given through college courses and study materials for the CPA exam don’t do enough to simulate preparing or reviewing an actual tax return. Although most returns in the program are simple, due to the restrictions on income levels and tax situations, it is a great introduction to preparing taxes.”
Participating in the program granted Bolick a chance to practice his skills and to network with organizations that were seeking accounting candidates. He is now employed as a full-time accounting assistant with the Bucks County Opportunity Council, and he has his VITA experience to thank for helping him stand out from other applicants for the position.
“Overall it was a great learning experience,” said Bolick. “Volunteering two days a week for a few hours was well worth the time investment for the experience I gained. I feel that participating in a program like this should be part of every accounting curriculum. Taking a tax classes and actually preparing taxes are two totally different things. This was a very worthwhile learning experience.”
Schuler, who is now studying for the CPA exam, agreed.
“Many employers and recruiters, especially in the Philadelphia and surrounding areas are familiar with the VITA program, and it stands out on a resume. The hands-on tax preparation experience also puts you ahead of your other classmates in terms of understanding taxes,” he said.
Bernadine Zapanta volunteered with VITA in New Jersey last year, and she speaks of her experience as an opportunity that was friendly with her schedule.
“The VITA sites I worked last year were very flexible with my work schedule. I was able to sign up for different sites and times which meant I could really work around the times I would be available,” said Zapanta.
In addition to gaining the valuable resume experience, Buck$Back volunteers get the chance to see firsthand the difference they make for their fellow community members.
Just ask Tram McNamara, an accounting student at Delaware Valley College, who will graduate in May.
“My best memory was when I assisted an elderly couple submit their tax return as well as helped them fill out their rent rebate, which they did not know about,” recalled McNamara. “It felt great to be able to help them fulfill their duty as taxpayers and reclaim the benefits that they deserve without spending a penny. They really appreciated the program and the work of our volunteers.”
Buck$Back volunteer Lauren Hill also echoes McNamara’s sentiments.
“My experience as a VITA volunteer was wonderful,” said Hill. “It turned out to be one of the best volunteer opportunities of my life. I love being able to interact face-to-face with the people I was helping.”
Buck$Back volunteers completed nearly 1,100 returns last year resulting in a more than $2 million fee savings, refunds and tax credits for county taxpayers. The average fee for a comparable tax preparation service at a commercial tax preparer was $200 last year. These savings allow Bucks County residents to put more money towards their savings, providing for their their families, buying a car or a home or even supporting local businesses. Basically, Buck$Back brings something “back” to everyone!
Interested in learning more about how you can become a Buck$Back volunteer? We would love to hear from you! Please contact the Bucks County Opportunity Council today, at 215.345.8175, ext. 221.
About the Contributor: Jessie Marushak leads all development efforts for Bucks County Opportunity Council, Inc. She joined staff in 2012 and has a proven track record for non-profit fund-raising and extensive experience in development, marketing, public relations and event management. The Opportunity Council connects people with resources to thrive.