The words “tax season” can strike fear in the hearts of busy families, but for USF students who volunteer in the Sioux Falls Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), it means both real-life work experience and community service.

This year alone, Sioux Falls’ VITA program completed over 325 tax returns, and students helped taxpayers get approximately $202,000 of Earned Income Credit and total refunds of $499,000. 

USF provided the most volunteers this year—13 students working a total of 276 hours—who assisted VITA along with community members and students from Augustana University and Southeast Tech.

Brett Korn, who graduated from USF last Sunday with a degree in Professional Accounting and Business Administration, said volunteering with VITA was an eye-opener to the diversity in the Sioux Falls community and made him appreciate the opportunity to help individuals of all backgrounds.

“In the last two years as a volunteer, one thing that always stands out is the client’s gratefulness to you for the service you are providing them with,” Korn said. “There is something about experiencing that gratitude that is very humbling and makes you realize the importance of using the gifts that God has given you to reach others around you. My volunteer experience with VITA has instilled in me a greater sense of wanting to volunteer more within the community and to use those gifts that I have been blessed with to reach those who are in need of our assistance."

Jill Whitley, an Associate Professor of Accounting at USF, has participated in the program alongside USF students since 1999.

“USF students have had a huge impact on the local VITA site since we started volunteering,” Whitley said. “I quickly learned that tax knowledge was a small part of what students gain from the experience. Their interpersonal skills are enhanced while learning how to communicate with clients of different ethnicities, languages and income levels. They see a slice of life that they aren't otherwise exposed to, and it helps them understand how difficult life is for some people.”

Through this experience, junior Ashley Hellwig confirmed her major.

“Volunteering for VITA has made me realize that this is what I want to do as a potential career,” Hellwig said. “Not only did I learn so much from completing a tax return, I was able to become more knowledgeable by listening and understanding an individual’s challenges or questions and handling difficult situations with the taxpayer.”

Of USF’s Accounting graduates who responded to a senior survey, 100 percent reported that they were satisfied in their majors or chosen fields of study. In addition, USF consistently ranks as one of the top schools in South Dakota for high CPA scores.

About VITA

VITA is an IRS sponsored tax assistance program for low income, elderly, disabled or limited English speaking taxpayers. Volunteers provide free tax assistance, tax return preparation and electronic filing of tax returns at the main Siouxland Library in Sioux Falls each spring.