By Kelly Cullen
Entirely East Lansing
MSU Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a nonprofit program whose mission is to give back to the community by offering free tax services.
Serving the Tri-County area of Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties, clients are able to receive guidance from trained student volunteers.
VITA provides free tax service to anyone with an income less than $60,000. In addition, clients are offered one-on-one appointments with the IRS-certified volunteers if their income is less than $53,000. MSU VITA operates at two sites, Kogelschatz said. The East Lansing Tax Super Center is located at 1900 Deerpath Lane East Lansing, and the on-campus International site that has drop-in appointments on Fridays from 3-5 p.m in the Student Services Building
“It still gives me chills to talk about it,” said Adam Kogelschatz, senior accounting major in the MSU Eli Broad. “I realized at that moment, more than ever, what an amazing program VITA is.”
A story that he still vividly remembers is that of a single mother of three who came in for assistance with a tax return. Kogelschatz was able to call and deliver her the news that she received a $6,000 return.
“I called her and she instantly started crying,” said Kogelschatz. “You hear a story like that every year. It really makes everything worth it.”
Kogelschatz started as a general tax preparer his sophomore year and moved up to the president of the board. With around 120 volunteers, he is responsible for training them as well as overseeing many of the day-to-day operations of MSU VITA.
The Asset Independence Coalition seeks volunteers to help with the VITA program by providing rigorous training sessions and certification through the IRS, Kogelschatz said. Volunteers will then be IRS certified and become a tax preparer and can then volunteer their time to VITA.
All volunteers, including basic tax preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators, must pass the qualification test to get the certificate to be involved with the program, said Jie Zhang, senior accounting major and web-master on the E-Board for MSU VITA.
To enrich her experience and resume, Zhang joined MSU VITA her sophomore year after her academic advisor mentioned the opportunity.
The most valuable part of this program to Kogelschatz is the impact he makes while giving back to individuals and families, and the moving stories that will stick with him forever.
Jim Eddy, a certified public accountant (CPA), and the chief financial officer of Capital Area United Way, also volunteers with VITA.
“With my experience with tax preparation, it was a natural fit to volunteer and help with the program,” said Eddy. “I express a passion for helping others achieve.”
Volunteers are ready to help once an appointment has been made. In addition, there is a website clients can visit if they prefer to do it at home and have an income of $60,000 or less. The website is www.myfreetaxes.com, which also includes a number to call if further assistance is needed.
“It is important that volunteers feel confident while working with clients,” said Kogelschatz. “They’re able to learn how to be professional while providing tax services to the individuals and families.”
Giving back to the community is something that the MSU VITA volunteers and executive board members value and strive for, Ryan Stead, junior accounting major, director of promotions said.
“It’s nice to see how happy the clients are when you’re working with them,” said Stead. “They truly appreciate our help.”
Just last year $4 million was brought back to the Lansing area because of the services of VITA, Kogelschatz said.
“It’s really fun to preach the four million dollars, but there’s nothing like the individual connection you make with your clients,” said Kogelschatz. “VITA is such a meaningful program to be a part of that can make a huge difference on someones life.”