Skip to main content

Tax season is filled with emotions: stress, frustration, anticipation, and even excitement. For Americans who cannot afford to have their taxes filed professionally, those emotions can be amplified.

That’s where the Kramer School of Accountancy and Information Sciences at John Carroll University comes in.

In an annual tradition that started in the 1990’s, Dr. Jerry Weinstein, CPA, a professor of accountancy at John Carroll, helps students combine experiential learning with community service by traveling throughout Cuyahoga County to facilitate free tax filing sessions. 

Weinstein and his students utilize software provided by the IRS in a program named VITA -- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance -- to help Clevelanders solve their tax issues.

It’s a great benefit for taxpayers to get their returns done for free,” Weinstein said. “Often, we’re helping individuals with low incomes. They might be eligible for benefits from the government like the earned income credit, which is a program that gives eligible taxpayers money.

From the students’ perspective, the opportunity proves beneficial on multiple fronts - satisfying their desire to engage with the community while also allowing them to gain the experience of working with clients in the ‘real world.’ 

“Most students are accountancy majors, so for them it’s a chance to hone skills that they will need in professional practice,” Weinstein said. “When I first started, I was taking seniors who had taken an income tax class, so they had some knowledge of it. In recent years, we’ve opened it up to anyone. A lot of students come in as freshmen, sophomores and juniors -- maybe not even accounting majors --  who want to do community service.”

Starting up the program wasn’t a smooth process, but the group’s resilience and careful examination of the experience has helped shape the initiative into what it has become today.

“We started in the early 90’s and the reason we did it... it was suggested by the director of the library.” Weinstein said, admitting the first year of their journey wasn’t a resounding success. “I had a group of accounting majors in the basement of the library on a Sunday — maybe eight or 10 kids — and we waited for people to come in. Nobody did. We were sitting around watching March Madness. That year, we may have done one tax return.”

Today, the Cuyahoga County Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition manages multiple locations around the county where citizens can receive tax support. At John Carroll, the Center for Service and Social Action now organizes the training and local partnerships for the accountancy program.

JCU’s accountancy students have prepared tax returns for the Famicos Community Help Foundation in Glenville for the past eight years. 

I think students feel that they make a difference,” Weinstein said. “Whenever you finish a tax return, there is a feeling of accomplishment. Most of the taxpayers are extremely grateful. It’s work, but the students realize they are performing a good deed.