Free Tax Assistance Program Helps Community and Provides Experience for Students

CHULA VISTA, CA. – Student volunteers are gaining professional experience by helping out fellow students and community members with a free tax assistance program at Southwestern College.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Southwestern College offers help with tax returns, back taxes and offers the ability to speak one-on-one with tax professionals. VITA is a partnership between South Bay Community Services (SBCS) and the college.

The two previous VITA sessions this year at Southwestern College have already helped with dozens of tax returns for students and local community members. Three more sessions are scheduled for March 25, April 8 and April 15.

This is the second year Southwestern College has been involved with the VITA program and the first year the program has been on campus as a “mobile” site. The previous year was operated at SBCS where volunteers assisted with more than 1,000 tax returns.

Nearly all the volunteers of the VITA Program are Southwestern College students. But these are not just your typical college students who have unrestricted access to your private information. Every VITA student volunteer must be approved by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), undergo rigorous background checks and complete 36 hours of intense training before being accepted into the program.

Part of this training was a credit course offered at Southwestern College.

“We were so fortunate to have the new January Short Session semester this year,” said Southwestern College Professor Maria Martinez-Sanabria, who oversees the program on campus. “This gave us the opportunity to get our student volunteers the required training to be a part of the program.“

It is an opportunity of which the student volunteers are proud.

“I thought it would be great experience, a way to find out if I liked taxes,” said Dalena Nguyen, a Southwestern College student, accounting tutor and VITA volunteer. “I wanted to become more familiar with taxes and thought it would be great experience to put on my résumé.”

Wanting to capitalize on the program’s success, Martinez-Sanabria hopes to expand the program in the future to help more people.

“Being a mobile site, we are limited on the number of days we can operate. The goal is to expand in a year to become a full-service program,” said Martinez-Sanabria.

Expansion would mean offering more services and resources and even setting up mobile sites at the Southwestern College Higher Education Centers in National City, Otay Mesa, San Ysidro and the Crown Cove Aquatic Center in Coronado.

The VITA program currently assists more community members than students. But that is changing.

“The reason why we are at Southwestern College is to try and get more students included,” said Monica Samayoa, program director and director of VITA at South Bay Community Services. “I’m really hoping to get the students in here who want help.”

The VITA program is booming and more students are becoming interested in receiving help with their taxes. This was evident by the line of students forming at 9 a.m. outside the classroom where VITA took place. They didn’t open until 10 a.m.

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Southwestern College Students volunteer for the Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA offers free help with tax returns to community member and students.
PHOTO: Southwestern College Students volunteer for the Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA offers free help with tax returns to community member and students.