News & Events

Waubonsee’s Distinguished Contributor Award Goes to 551 Volunteers

For more than a decade, a group of stalwart volunteers has gathered to assist low-income residents with their income taxes on nights and weekends during tax season at the Waubonsee Aurora Campus. 

Their efforts have translated into millions of dollars back to the community, real world experience for Waubonsee Community College students, and one less worry for hard working residents who receive the services. In short, the program exemplifies what can be achieved when the classroom meets the community.

The local effort, a partnership between Waubonsee and the Center for Economic Progress (CEP), is part of a nationwide Internal Revenue Service program known as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Similar sites are hosted around the country.

This year, Waubonsee is honoring its VITA program volunteers with the Distinguished Contributor Award, which recognizes individuals or groups who have made an outstanding contribution to or given exemplary support to the college.

Launched locally in 2005 by accounting faculty members Dan Gibbons and Catherine Collins, VITA asks volunteers to commit to a minimum of 20 hours during the tax season, and to complete Internal Revenue Service certifications. Those training sessions equip volunteers with the necessary skills to assist clients.

George Sterling, Certified Public Accountant and Instructor at Waubonsee, currently manages the local program with the assistance of his wife Therese. The program provides services to families with annual incomes less than $50,000, and individuals with incomes less than $25,000.

Gibbons said he is impressed by the growth of the site since its beginning in 2005. He said that in the first year, volunteers completed 40 returns, and the next year, they completed more than 400. The program has continued to grow since.

Today, the work of 551 volunteers over 11 years has resulted in $13.1 million returned to the community. Since 2005, the program has served 7,267 clients who have filed a total of 13,570 federal and state returns.

Last season, the program served nearly 1,030 low-to moderate-income families and individuals, bringing $2 million in income tax refunds back to the local economy.  Gibbons said the program has benefited everyone involved.

“Volunteers have the opportunity to give back to their community, and both volunteers and students make long lasting connections,” he said. “Waubonsee has benefited as well. Due to connections we have made through VITA, two of our volunteers teach classes within the accounting program. One of those individuals has expanded the impact of the VITA program by managing a new site, unaffiliated with Waubonsee, in West Chicago.”

VITA coordinators and clients praise the volunteers for their work ethic, their commitment to the community, and for helping their clients maintain a sense of dignity and respect while dealing with what can be a stressful situation.

“I drive trucks and sell fruits and vegetables on the side,” said Curtiss Llong Bey, a 2015 client. “The service was exciting because everything got done faster than I thought. I really appreciate it. I have been telling people about it too. I used to do it myself and make errors. I went to the library last year to ask what the wording on a tax form meant, and they told me to come here. This is my second year, and I will be coming back as long as I make money.”

VITA is supported by a Waubonsee course, - ACC 245 VITA Program: Tax Procedure and Practice - which provides students with a service learning opportunity while gaining college credit. The program also provides field experience for students in the Legal Interpreting program, as those students provide interpreting services for clients while earning credits toward their required field experience.

Ne’Keisha Stepney, Assistant Dean of Business and Career Technologies, helps to oversee the program at Waubonsee.

“This program gives students a hands-on experience and a chance to work in their community from a different perspective,” she said. “It’s pure service learning.”

Therese Sterling, Assistant Site Manager, said the volunteers demonstrate that there is great value in being of service to others.

“We are grateful for their ongoing support, as many volunteers have been with the program for five or more years,” she said. “They show up with a smile, caring attitude, and approach the work they do whole-heartedly. Our volunteers not only support district residents, but also do so in a way that strengthens goodwill throughout our community.”