The Lehigh chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) is partnering with the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) to assist members of the Lehigh community and surrounding Bethlehem area with their tax returns.
NSCS volunteers are qualified to answer questions and complete income tax returns.
“We are one of the few university organizations that have helped to co-sponsor this program,” says NSCS faculty adviser Pam Pepper. “We hope that this program is something that future members will be committed to, and we hope that we are able to reach out and help as many members of our community as possible.”
Justin Wilson, a sophomore, brought the program to Lehigh after learning about it at the NSCS leadership summit in Washington, D.C. last summer. “I brought the information back to the Lehigh NSCS officers and we agreed to pursue it,” Wilson says. “Information was distributed during NSCS induction and now we are on our way.”
The AARP Tax-Aide program was established in 1968 to help retired persons complete their tax returns. According to Pepper, the process of completing tax returns can be extremely costly and daunting.
“The tax laws are complex, and often persons with limited means end up using significant portions of a refund simply to have their taxes prepared,” Pepper says.
That’s where Lehigh students come in. “NSCS volunteers are able to help low- and middle-income citizens maximize their tax deductions,” Pepper says. “This results in tangible economic benefits to those individuals.”
Lehigh is only the second university to join in this partnership with AARP. “We are in the early stages and are working very hard to inform the Bethlehem community,” Wilson says. “I always wanted to learn how to complete my own tax returns and now that knowledge can help others as well.”
Giving back to the community
Wilson adds that the tax aide program also helps to unite Lehigh and the city of Bethlehem.
“I believe this activity will improve our relations with our surrounding community and help Lehigh students gain an appreciation for volunteerism,” he says. “Compiling income tax returns is a unique service opportunity.”
Jason Malinowski says the partnership between NSCS and AARP is rewarding on both academic and personal levels.
“As an accounting major with a particular interest in tax, I chose to do this program because I felt it would be my way of helping community members out with this specialized knowledge,” Malinowski says. “While a lot of work went into being certified to work in the center, I felt it is more than worth it to be able to give back to the Lehigh and Bethlehem communities.”
Although the community response has been small so far, Ryan Bash, a senior accounting major, says it has been very positive.
“The people who have been coming in have been very grateful for any assistance we can give them,” Bash says. “Most of them are elderly and are intimidated by the whole process. They enjoy working with college students and hold complete trust in us. It's very satisfying to see how grateful they are when the whole process is over.”
The NSCS tax aide program is held on the Asa Packer campus in the Computing Center Room 292. It is open Thursday nights from 4-8 p.m. The remaining sessions will be April 7 and 14.