Tax documents

Spider undergrads lend tax-prep help to those in need

March 31, 2023

Student Experience

Volunteering to help people fill out their taxes provides Senior Erica Barends with two benefits: As an accounting major, it offers practical experience, but more importantly, she enjoys working with those who need assistance.

Barends is one of nearly three dozen University students this year participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which offers free tax preparation for families and individuals with incomes of $60,000 or less. The University works locally with the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg to sponsor the program, which is offered through the IRS, in the Richmond region.

This is the 12th year that the University has participated. UR operates a site for the program in downtown Richmond at St. Paul’s Church, near the state Capitol. Students become IRS-certified volunteers and can help the clients identify tax credits they’re able to claim. The volunteer sessions last about two hours each.

“I thought it would be a good experience, and it helped me decide I like doing taxes,” Barends said. “Taxes are like a puzzle. There are rules you follow, you’re given information, and then you figure out where it fits in the return. I like the volunteering aspect as well. Taxes can be stressful. We’re helping people file so if they’re entitled to a refund, they can receive it. The clients are so grateful.”

Almost all of this year’s 34 students are participating through two related courses offered through the Robins School of Business. Two students are volunteering as translators.

“It’s a good opportunity to partner with the United Way and offer community-based learning,” said Sasha Hollister, who is the University’s site coordinator for the program, and the assistant director of community relationships and place-based engagement at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. 

“Anyone can volunteer. You don’t have to have a background in taxes,” Hollister said. “The goal isn’t to know everything about taxes. It’s about how to find answers and utilize tax software and the textbook to guide you. Most of the tax returns are basic.”

Many of the clients are older, Hollister said, and they see a number of the same faces year after year. It’s a learning experience for the clients as well, Hollister said.

“They go away with a complete understanding of what was entered and why they have a refund or what they owe. It’s a win-win for everybody.”