News & Announcements

Recent Centenary College Graduate are First Two On-Site Coordinators for VITA Program

06/12/2014, 02:03 PM

Hackettstown, N.J. – Two recent Accounting major graduates at Centenary College were offered leadership opportunities and real-life experience working with an IRS-certified free tax preparation program designed to help low- and moderate-income residents in the Hackettstown area.

Kate Ruszkiewicz and April Szekula volunteered during their spring semester senior year overseeing operations at a free tax preparation site, along with seven other Centenary volunteers, at Saint James Episcopal Church. The program, called VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) was a partnership between the IRS and United Way of Northern New Jersey to provide qualified tax preparation to Warren County residents who cannot afford a paid preparer. This was the first time United Way designated college students as the coordinators for one of the nonprofit’s free tax sites. 
As the site coordinators, Ruszkiewicz and Szekula volunteered three days a week for three hours each day. At the end of their experience, said they were inspired by the program and had new ideas that they wanted to implement for the next year.

“This was the first (local United Way) site run by students,” says Ruszkiewicz. “It was such a challenging, yet rewarding experience helping members of the community with a process that many people find daunting. I learned so much, as well and am thankful to have become so knowledgeable about tax preparation.  This insight can only benefit me throughout my career.”

To become an IRS-certified tax preparer, volunteers must undergo training and pass an IRS test. Volunteers can choose to be trained for basic or advanced tax returns, but all are required to attend ethics training. The training was offered on-site at Centenary College to help prepare the college students for the work.

Ruszkeiwicz currently has been offered a position at Selective Insurance Group Inc. in Branchville, New Jersey as a financial planner. Szekula is in the process of looking to gain further experience in her chosen field.

“Kate and April really took the initiative to manage this program,” says Monica Conover, who manages the free tax preparation program for United Way of Northern New Jersey.  “They felt a sense of ownership and took pride in their service, and the positive results are obvious in the success of this site.”

The Hackettstown site filed 99 tax returns during the two-month period it was open.  A total of $102,000 in state and federal income tax refunds were put back into the pockets of local residents. In addition, the free service saved these residents about $20,000 in preparation fees. On average, it costs $200 to have a paid tax preparer file a tax return.
For more information regarding how to become a free tax prep volunteer, visit www.unitedwaynnj.org/freetaxprep.
The Centenary College VITA program experience was made possible under the direction of Professor James Ford, Assistant Professor of Accounting, who has been the senior adviser on this initiative since 2009.  He revitalized the program with the support of Business Department Chair Cheryl Veronda, Associate Professor of Business.  Professor Kathy Turrisi, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, serves as assistant adviser for Centenary students who wish to participate in this opportunity.

Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary College’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix is designed to provide an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world.

Centenary College’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township (Morris County).  The Centenary College School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in two locations: Parsippany and Edison, and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.  The School of International Programs recruits international students for study at Centenary and Centenary students for study abroad.