ByEileen M. Laux
Eileen M. Laux, a 3L at Florida Coastal University School of Law, is student editor of Student Lawyer.
Barry University has done it again, for the seventh time. Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program was honored by the Law Student Division for the seventh consecutive year at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. Professor Patrick Tolan, faculty supervisor of the program, has been pleased with the program and says the formula for a successful program is pretty simple.
“Dedication of the students to the community,” he says. “It is the single most important factor. There is positive reinforcement.”
He says students who participate develop their skills. They are able to work through a problem and receive rewarding and meaningful feedback. Overall, students are given a valuable opportunity that he says has a positive impact.
“I think they love [the program],” Tolan says. “These students are getting a lot out of the service they provide. People are so thankful.”
VITA offers free tax assistance to individuals who meet certain qualifications. Volunteers help prepare basic income tax returns for low-income taxpayers or those with special needs such as the elderly, non-English speaking persons, and persons with disabilities.
The Law Student Division’s VITA Award recognizes outstanding VITA programs for assisting individuals in need with their income tax returns. VITA provides an opportunity for law students to gain experience in dealing with practical problems of complying with the Internal Revenue Code and provides an opportunity for the law school to render valuable public service.
Tolan says the award helps to stimulate the student volunteers.
“This gives credibility,” he says. “It gives students a pat on the back and a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”
He also says that student continuity is the key. At Barry, two tax professors are involved and students are encouraged to come back and participate each year. They have a great experience the first year and then return and take part in student leadership the next year.
“They feel how rewarding it is and want to come back,” he says.
VITA president Matthew Gilbert said he was pleased with the award.
“It means our hard work and efforts to assist the community are being recognized, which is very humbling and an honor,” he says.
Gilbert says a great VITA program takes support.
“A great faculty adviser like Professor Tolan, as well as the support of our school that is very accommodating,” he says. Our volunteers pay a vital role as well. We could not do it without them.”
Gilbert encourages other students to get involved, not only to serve the community but to gain experience helping people and learning about taxes.
“It’s all about serving the underserved,” Tolan says. “We are getting to the people that really need it the most. I am really proud of the students, everyone goes above and beyond.”
Vol. 41 No. 4