Penn State Scranton students make impact volunteering with VITA program

professor angela bassani assists a student during a volunteer session at VITA

Penn State Scranton Assistant Teaching Professor of Accounting Angela Bassani mentors students during tax season for the VITA program.

Credit: Penn State

DUNMORE, Pa. — A group of Penn State Scranton students have wrapped up another successful year assisting the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, making a significant impact on the local community.

The United Way of Lackawanna, Wayne and Pike counties offers the VITA program to qualifying residents of Lackawanna, Pike and Wayne counties.  It provides them free assistance with preparing their local, state and federal income tax returns. Qualifying households and senior citizens from Northeast Pennsylvania had to have income during 2023 of $60,000 or less.

Led by Assistant Teaching Professor of Accounting Angela Bassani, the program saw remarkable achievements this year.

“We have seven Penn State Scranton students that will have devoted 1,300 total hours to supporting the VITA program this year,” Bassani said, highlighting the students’ dedication.  Two of these students returned from last year to serve in supervisory roles, aiding in training their peers and reviewing tax returns.

Penn State Scranton Chancellor Marwa Wafa emphasized the University's commitment to community engagement, praising the VITA program's impact.

“Seven Penn State Scranton students devoted more than 1,300 hours to supporting the VITA program this year. Because of them, 2,101 free tax returns were filed; 1,626,394 in federal refunds were brought back into the community; $397,376 of these refunds were earned income credits; and $440,200 in tax return preparation fees were saved,” Wafa said.

Erica Yatzun, a student participant, shared her rewarding experiences and personal development through the program. “Completing this internship has helped me develop both personally and academically. I am a hands-on learner, so actually doing people's taxes helped me learn, along with all of the bookwork that I learned in class,” she said.

Another student, Matthew Davis, reflected on the benefits of student involvement in VITA. “Some of the key benefits of student involvement in the VITA program are exposure to tax forms and experience working with a variety of clients,” he said. “Participating in the VITA program has helped me not only learn more about taxes but also get a feel for managing workload.”

Conner Sheruda, echoing the sentiments of his peers, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to gain real-world accounting experience through VITA. “I accepted because it provided me with a great opportunity for authentic work experience in the accounting field,” he said.

Richard Kokas, adjunct lecturer of business at Penn State Scranton and CPA for VITA, emphasized the program's alignment with academic goals and mission. “The VITA internship allows students to give back directly to the community while giving them amazing hands-on tax prep experience,” Kokas said.

The United Way of Lackawanna, Wayne & Pike Counties Vice President of Community Impact and VITA Representative Peg Kopko praised the students for their dedication and professionalism.

For VITA to work, it has to be a team effort between our older adult volunteers and the students. All of the students have been very respectful of the clients they have, assisting them if they have mobility issues, showing great professionalism, and patience.

—Peg Kopko , United Way of Lackawanna, Wayne & Pike Counties Vice President of Community Impact and VITA Representative

Penn State Scranton’s annual participation in the VITA program stands as a testament to the campus’ commitment to community engagement and student development, providing invaluable hands-on experience while making a tangible difference in the lives of taxpayers.

During the 2023 tax season, the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program saved our tax clients $500,250 in fees as we filed 2,001 tax returns for free with $1,477,869 in federal refunds being returned to the community—and the budgets of hard-working area families.