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VITA program prepares taxes for nearly 500 people this year

June 26, 2009

Last spring, the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law offered free tax preparation help to hundreds of low-to-moderate-income clients through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

The Internal Revenue Service-designed program was offered from February through April, with sessions staffed by volunteers three days per week. This year, the program helped file 481 tax returns, an increase of 75 percent from 2008. In 2007, 140 returns were filed. For the first time, sessions were offered in St. Bernard Parish, an area still coping from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina four years ago.

Forty-six students helped file the returns under the direction of College of Law Associate Professor William Neilson and Budget Director Andy Piacun. The prepared tax returns produced more than $110,000 in earned income tax credit for taxpayers and $488,000 in total refunds.

Todd Feinstein, a third-year law student who volunteered, said working in St. Bernard Parish was a rewarding experience.

“Preparing taxes allowed me to engage a cross-section of community members on a deeply personal level,” Feinstein said. “Taxes, which can be stressful and personal, are an inevitability for everyone. By providing this valuable service to the community, we as volunteers developed client relation skills and learned how to tailor our service to individuals of all walks of life.”

Stanley Bordelon, another third-year law student who volunteered in St. Bernard, said the experience helped him live up to Loyola’s mission of leading meaningful lives with and for others.

“By bringing VITA to St. Bernard, we were living the essence of a Jesuit education. To me, the core of a Jesuit education is not in the classroom. Rather, it is going out among our sisters and brothers, like the Jesuit missionaries did and continue to do today, to help make their lives better in some small way and to be witnesses of Christ’s light in this world,” Bordelon said. “By volunteering in St. Bernard Parish, we left the comfortable surroundings of our uptown campus and reached out to those who are in need and gave them a reason to hope in the future.”

Next year, Piacun plans to expand the reach of the VITA program by offering assistance in New Orleans East with the assistance of Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation.

For more information on the VITA program, contact Piacun at 504-861-5668 or apiacun@loyno.edu.

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