Author: William Prenkert, Jr. Spring 2011 Graduate
Learning and giving are two important aspects of education that Mr. Ron Bishop, Instructor of Business Management & Finance, emphasizes to his students at the Van Buren Technology Center. The Van Buren Technology Center provides instructional courses in thirty programs of study, to over one thousand students a year from fourteen different high schools throughout Van Buren County.
As part of their course requirements in the study of accounting, Mr. Bishop’s students learn the basic principles of tax preparation. The students then put the knowledge and skills they have learned into practical use by participating with the federal governments free tax preparation service knows as VITA. VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is a program that offers free tax preparation help to low-to-moderate income (Generally $49,000 and below) households or individuals who cannot prepare their own tax returns or cannot afford to pay for this service.
Students volunteer to work directly with individual clients to complete all the necessary forms required by both federal and state governments. The completed forms are filled out, checked and then reviewed by the students and the instructor. They are then faxed into the appropriate agencies right from the Tech Center. So once a client leaves the center they just have to wait for their refund to arrive by mail or direct deposit. To be eligible to volunteer, students must pass a VITA approved basic knowledge and skills exam administered by Mr. Bishop through an on-line service provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To promote unity and togetherness in the classroom, all students are required to participate in the testing but the amount of time they volunteer is up to them. Mr. Bishop stated that “Participation in the program gives students a real world connection, through tax preparation, to the financial materials and projects learned during classroom instruction”.
As for the giving aspect of the program, students learn that through volunteer work they are giving back to the communities that support the Van Buren Technology Center with their tax dollars. They also learn the value and importance of working with a wide diversity of individuals from these communities. Through this program students also earn community service credits that they can apply to their home schools state graduation requirements.
Mr. Bishop also stated that “The community benefits from this program in several ways. The first and most obvious way is in the cost savings families receive on tax preparation but more importantly, it promotes a strong social relationship between the Tech Center and the community”.
The program runs from the end of January to the first week in April each year. Individuals interested in receiving this free service may come to the Van Buren Technology Center located at 250 South Street in Lawrence, Michigan 49064 or call 269-674-8954 to schedule an appointment. Students work two days a week Monday through Friday and by a walk-in first come first served basis on Saturdays. The program has been a successful endeavor for the Tech Center, students and the community for several years and according to Mr. Bishop will continue as long as there are individuals needing assistance and the federal government provides it as an option.
So far Mr. Bishop has already received several calls from community members as early as September, to make sure the program will be available this coming tax season.