You know you’re doing something right when the American Bar Association (ABA) takes notice – four years in a row. That’s what happened with Barry University’s Dwayne O. Andreas School Law’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, which the ABA recently honored with its National Law Student Division Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program Award.
The VITA Program was formed during the 2005-06 academic year under the leadership of student site coordinator Andras Cziotka and the supervision of Barry tax professors Frank Schiavo and Patrick Tolan. In its first year the program had 15 volunteers, served more than 90 low to moderate income taxpayers and was applauded by the IRS for the lowest error rate of any new site in the region, contributing to its selection by the ABA Law Student Division for the “VITA Rookie Site Award.” Since that time, the program has experienced exponential growth, serving nearly 200 families in 2007 and more than 400 in 2008.
“I am exceptionally proud that our students have been honored again by the ABA for their service; each year our students have raised the bar to a new level and expanded our program to better meet the tax filing needs of underserved members of our community,” said Tolan, an associate professor of law. “This fourth award affirms their continued hard work and motivates us to continue to make the program even better.”
Barry recently expanded its VITA program to offer Spanish-speaking services to better serve Orlando’s Hispanic community, a group chronically underserved in terms of receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit. Earlier this year the University opened a new satellite site at the VA Hospital in an outreach program designed to bring services to disabled veterans who might have transportation and mobility problems. A total of 75 Barry student volunteers participated in this year’s program.
Barry Law School’s VITA program has provided more than 2,000 hours of free tax preparation services to the local community. The volunteers have emphasized maximizing refund amounts by educating taxpayers about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). To date, volunteers have prepared more than 1,000 returns with more than $600,000 dollars in refunds given back to the taxpayers.