Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Students, taxpayers benefit from KCKCC's VITA program

Helping low income taxpayers prepare their taxes is more than just a class at Kansas City Kansas Community College. It’s a step stone to life.

“The class and the experience itself made me look at everybody’s situation in a totally different perspective,” said Jennifer Knouse. “It taught me some really valuable skills, not just for preparing taxes but also for customer service,” said Scottie Sheets.

“An experience that was fulfilling and left me feeling better as a person,” added Vilma Book.

Founded nine years ago by KCKCC business instructor Joyce Griffin, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) this year went over the $10.6 million mark in refunds –  8,392 taxpayers received $10,651,422 in refunds to be exact.

“My goal this year was to reach out to 1,300 taxpayers and we made it with 1,312,” said Griffin. Tax refunds also reached an all-time high of $1,940,002.

Open only to taxpayers with limited incomes, 507 taxpayers took advantage of VITA in its first year in 2004, receiving $438,000 in refunds. Since then the number of recipients increased 2½ times and refunds have increased fourfold.

Equally important, for many graduates of the class, it has become a passion for helping others. In addition to 22 students enrolled in the class this spring, 14 former students returned to assist along with 15 community members. 

“The students are the biggest reason for our continued success and the accomplishment of our dual goals of giving our students some real-world experience and providing a needed service for the community,” said Griffin. “They worked hard, coming in early and staying late when needed; helping each other and acting professionally at all times.”

A one-hour credit class, students are required to work at least 27 hours during the filing season.

“However, most worked more, averaging more than 30 hours per student,” said Griffin. For 2012, volunteers contributed 1,695 hours in assisting others.

“I’m glad I gave up my Saturday morning to help out,” said Jennifer Gumminger. “It was a great feeling to be able to help others and to know they really appreciated what we were doing,” agreed Monica Blain. “The class was great for me and I left with a great season of accomplishment,” noted Amber Winfrey.

Other students in this year’s class were Robin Carroll, Brandi Fulson, Kevin George, Carol Hanna, Edwin Nyakeriga, Paris Mitchell, Eric Manyinsa, Tiffany Martin, Benjamin Buck, Tony Smith, Yesenia Nunez, Alyssa Torres, Ruby Amaya, LeNeise Watts, Amanda Watson and Korchi Yang.

Returning students included Cindy Avalos, Irina Albright, Kristi Burbage, Julie Boatright, Akilah Cohen, Michelle Curttright, Amanda Chrisman, Claudia Hernandez, Karina Gutierrez, Aaron Shuck, Kimberly Smith, Shunnissa Talley and Alice Wood.

Community members volunteering included Courtney Baxter, Ed Balzano, Charlie Cummings, Ellen Harbaugh, Ellen Herndon, Carmen Hopkins, Lesia Hegeman, Chiquita Miller, Elaine Kramer, June Matfield, Pamela Owens, Jill Nelson, Donna Tilden and Paula Zishka.  '

This is the final year of directing the program for Griffin, who retired after teaching accounting for 31 years as the end of the semester.

“It’s been a very unique and rewarding experience,” says Griffin. “It been rewarding because it gave me a chance to give back to the community and help students give back to the community while they were learning a skill that will help them both personally and professionally.”

However, she’s not abandoning the program either. “I’ll continue to be a volunteer,” she promises.


PHOTO: Joyce Griffin (left), who founded the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at KCKCC that has returned more than $10.6 million to taxpayers over the past nine years, has ended her career as director of the program with her retirement after 31 years of teaching accounting but will continue as a volunteer. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)