April 5, 2014

​Free Tax Preparation Program Provides Refunds and Learning Opportunities

Beginning in
mid-February, students in Pacific Union College’s Individual Taxation class
participated in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the Up
Valley Family Center in St. Helena, California. The students prepared tax
returns for free for people that earned less than $58,000 per year, applying
what they had learned in the classroom as part of a service-learning project
that allowed them to grow their skills while providing a valuable service to
members of the community.

[Photo: PUC]As of March 19,
the 12 PUC students and 4 other community volunteers had prepared and submitted
144 tax returns for Napa Valley residents who visited the St. Helena site of the
Up Valley Family Centers, formerly St. Helena Family Center. In early February,
the students received Internal Revenue Service certification, and soon after
began seeing clients under the supervision of Norma Ferriz, site and operations
manager for Up Valley Family Centers.

estimates that nearly 90 percent of the people who take advantage of the
program receive a refund. “This is all money that is reinvested in the
community so that is great,” she said. In 2013, a group of PUC and community
volunteers prepared 165 tax returns, bringing back more than $313,900 in total
refunds to families and individuals in the community. “In 2014, thanks to the
participation of volunteers from St. Helena and students from PUC the number of
tax returns and total refunds will be surpassed,” said Ferriz.

“There are many
people who don’t know that by filing they are eligible for certain credits,
like the Earned Income tax credit. The program is to educate people about these
credits and to facilitate them submitting their taxes,” explained Ferriz.
“Doing taxes is part of being a good citizen. We at the Family Center feel that
good citizens do things like these that support the entire community.”

Rodney Hardcastle incorporated the service-learning opportunity into the class
so students could apply what they learned in the classroom in the real world.
The goal was to “to advance the students’ knowledge of the tax area and at the
same time provide something to the community,” Hardcastle shared.

Ferriz agrees
that the tax preparation program provides a tangible benefit to the community,
while providing students with a chance to learn more than just tax preparation.
“It is a great opportunity for students to be exposed to how to do a tax return
and also to be exposed to the realities of the different populations who live
here,” commented Ferriz. “People have the idea that there are only wealthy
people here, but it’s good exposure that there are people with very different
incomes that live and work in the Napa Valley.”

Steven Felty,
one of the PUC student volunteers, experienced the diversity Ferriz describes.
“Many of the people we did returns for had multiple jobs and children and were
barely making ends meet,” Felty said. “This program really helps many people
get money back that they need.”

Hardcastle is
encouraged that the service-learning opportunity has benefitted both his
students and the community. “It works out great in this instance because not
only are they getting the learning, but they’re giving back to the community at
the same time,” he commented.

Elise Williams,
a business major enrolled in the course, agreed. “I think that it helped me
understand and helped the community, so it was a real win-win situation!” she

The free tax
preparation program continues at the St. Helena site of the Up Valley Family
Centers through April 15. Those who qualify for the program can call (707)
963-1919 to make an appointment.