Breea Williams of Roosevelt, N.Y., an Accounting major at Mount Saint Mary College, works at the Newburgh Free Library as a Tax-Aide preparer on Wednesday, March 23. Photo by Lee Ferris.
Even with the extension in place, Tax Day is still on its way. But for the 11th year in a row, Mount Saint Mary College Accounting students and alumni are here to help by providing free tax preparation for middle- and low-income families.
This year, about a dozen Mount students and alumni are volunteering with Tax-Aide, a tax assistance program offered annually by the AARP Tax-Aide Foundation, the Mid-Hudson CA$H Coalition, and the United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region. As in previous years, the Mount's School of Business and the Career Center were a driving force in the success of the Tax-Aide program at the college.
Through Tax-Aide, Mount students serve their community in donated spaces throughout the area. This year, new precautions have been put in place to protect the community from the threat of COVID-19, including low contact preparation and digital only service.
"Current volunteer students and alumni make a significant contribution to our Tax-Aide program," explained Dave Weaving, the Orange County CA$H Coalition coordinator. "Without the help of Mount Saint Mary College and these students, we would not have the vibrant, expanding program that we have. Our experienced volunteers are always thrilled to work with students."
Accounting major Breea Williams of Roosevelt N.Y. prepares returns for area residents on Tuesday afternoons at the Newburgh Free Library. Williams is on the college's 5-year MBA track and this is her first time volunteering with the Tax-Aide program.
Williams and her peers trained for at least 40 hours through work with AARP certified instructors, then passed an IRS certification exam.
"I really enjoy helping people get the best return possible for them," said Williams. "Participating in Tax-Aide really opened my eyes to the outside world. This is giving me the experience I'll need to be better in my field."
Lending her skills to the Tax-Aide program has been a rewarding experience, noted first-year volunteer Joanne Kubat of Williston Park, N.Y., a Business Administration and Management major with a concentration in Marketing. When she was in high school, Kubat would volunteer to teach senior citizens how to use technology, help out Ronald McDonald House Charities, and more. Tax-Aide was the next evolution of her desire to serve the community.
"I love the idea of helping people," she said. "It always makes me feel like I'm doing something good" for the community.
For Victoria Munro of Sparta, N.J., a senior Accounting major on the 5-year MBA track, her third year volunteering with Tax-Aide has been done online. While she misses the in-person connections she was able to make with clients in previous years, she still feels the same joy in helping them to complete their taxes.
"It's a fulfilling feeling," she said. "Everyone in our community does their part [and] this is me doing my service for them. I love being able to give back with an ability that someone else might not have, just like the community helps me with so many things."
Munro likens volunteering with Tax-Aide to a clinical experience for a Nursing student, or a student-teaching placement for a teaching candidate: it's a hands-on experience that brings what she has learned in the classroom to life.
"Tax-Aide definitely opened me up to the community," Munro explained. "You work with people who have a lot, and you work with people who don't have so much. Tax-Aide humbles you with what you can do with your knowledge."
Williams, Kubat, and Munro were quick to point out that they couldn't have succeeded as Tax-Aide volunteers without the help of their professors. Williams credits Neirouz Watad, instructor of Accounting, with getting her into the Accounting major in the first place: "I was undeclared for a while," she said. "But after taking one Accounting course taught by her, it automatically made me interested in Accounting."
Kubat pointed out her admiration for two Mount professors: Christopher Neyen, assistant professor of Art and Graphic Design, and Anthony Scardillo, assistant professor of Marketing.
"Professor Neyen helped me to be able to continue my passion for art while pursuing the degree I want, and Professor Scardillo helped me to be able to participate in my classes and be more willing to join [activities and service projects] on campus," she explained.
For Munro, Watad and Tracey Niemotko, professor of Accounting, provide her with "strong female role models in accounting."
"Their smarts and their skill really showed me that we can do this, and we can become the accountants that we want to be," Munro noted. "The Mount is a very supportive environment."
In addition to the current Mount students giving their time and talents to the project, several Mount graduates continue to volunteer with Tax-Aide, including Justin Perez '16, Crystal Graham '19, and Elisa Morey '15, who is a Tax-Aide site leader.