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Students provide free tax preparation for area families

Soe Thi Ha ’10 has volunteered as a tax preparer for the past three years.

The stress of tax season was alleviated for some 1,300 local residents thanks to an army of volunteer tax preparers that included a dozen current Lehigh students.

Susan Zlotnick, who has coordinated the area’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for the past half-dozen years that she’s worked for the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, relies on an army of nearly 100 volunteers to get that large quantity of tax returns done well before the April 15 income tax filing deadline. Volunteers range from homemakers to out-of-work accountants and engineers to area college students, including a dozen current Lehigh University students (almost all of whom are accounting or finance majors)—working in four different area locations (Bethlehem, Allentown, Easton and Mt. Bethel).

The 12 Lehigh students who prepared taxes for area residents this year were: Jonathan Reynolds ’11, Elizabeth LaPoint ’12, Wendy Yan ’12, Sean Quach ’12, Soe Thi Ha ’10, Alison Haratz ’10, Kuan-Hung Tu ’13, Ya Ru Huang ’10, Michael Goldberg ’10, Michelle Larsen ’11, Matthew Richards ’12 and David Schwab ’12.

Mary Popp ’11, a student who works in Lehigh’s Community Service Office, coordinated all the scheduling of the Lehigh student volunteers—ensuring that Zlotnick had all the tax preparation help she needed.

“We really appreciate the help that the Lehigh University students give us each year,” says Zlotnick. “There are several benefits to the students: one is seeing how little some families have to live on. The goal of the Community Action Committee of Lehigh Valley is to try to eradicate poverty.

“Another benefit, of course, is to give the business students experience in one-on-one dealing with a client. It also helps to put to use in real life their book knowledge.”

Soe Thi Ha ’10, an accounting major, first volunteered for the VITA tax program as a sophomore because he wanted to perform some community service that was related to his field.

“The experience was definitely eye-opening,” says Ha, who has volunteered the past three years, assisting on between five to seven tax returns per year. “The people are always very grateful for this free tax preparation program, knowing that hiring a CPA would cost a couple hundred dollars.  Most times, their income is in the low five-digit figures, with children to feed as well.  Thus, it's easy to see how valuable every dollar that they might get back is for them.”

Besides the pleasure that comes from helping others, there was another befit for Ha, as he plans to pursue an accounting career in New York City after graduating next month.

“The VITA program mainly involved simple tax returns, so the program has been a very useful learning experience for me as well, easing me into the individual tax world and the tax world in general,” Ha says. “After my first year (of volunteering as a sophomore), I was astounded by the positive appreciation and feedback of the program, and just came back for more.”

Story by Bill Doherty

Posted on Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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