WILMINGTON — Wilmington College’s free tax preparation service for area residents was on track to eclipse last year’s record 205 returns when the COVID-19 crisis forced WC to shutter its VITA site earlier this month.
Shelbi Long, a senior accounting and agriculture major from Ashland, again this year served as the student site supervisor for the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) at Wilmington College.
She was one of WC’s 13 IRS-certified, volunteer tax preparers who, along with a support staff of seven fellow students that greeted clients and handled logistics, successfully assisted 141 area residents with low to moderate incomes in filing their tax returns through the first week of March.
The students left for the College’s Spring Break (March 9 through 13) with the expectation of returning to complete more than 100 additional returns this tax season — and easily break last year’s record mark of 204 returns. When the College announced it was following a recommendation by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the State Dept. of Public Safety to close for the last two weeks in March, Long and accounting professor Allen Beatty, CPA, IRS Enrolled Agent/Site Manager, decided the future was too uncertain to continue the program.
Indeed, WC ultimately decided to complete the semester online.
Long said the service was running like a well-oiled machine with the IRS accepting 100 percent of the returns.
“The success was amazing. We increased the number of returns we were able to complete on a nightly basis to 14 to 16,” she said. “At the pace we were operating, we were set to break another record by the end of the tax season. It was heart-breaking to have to close the site early because we were looking to help many more people complete their income taxes. I reassured many of our clients that we will be open again next year.”
But Long will not be here next year. She expects to graduate after this semester and has a job lined up with a public accounting firm in Cleveland, something to which her leadership experience with VITA no doubt contributed. She looked back to her sophomore year when she learned about the College’s VITA program in Beatty’s Financial Accounting class.
“I wanted to become more involved on campus and I figured this program would allow me to participate in something within my desired career choice,” she said, noting that, after that initial tax season, Beatty encouraged her to consider serving as the student supervisor.
“I wanted to challenge myself and grow my leadership skills for the future — I was able to accomplish both things by taking on this responsibility. Working with this program has allowed me to grow academically, personally and as a leader.”
Long, who held the top student position for the last two years, praised the “‘tremendous job” done by her fellow students.
“We were so successful because of each volunteer,” she said. Also, Long added that the large number of returning clients verifies the success of WC’s program. “Clients say hello when they see you around town. They remember each volunteer from year to year and look forward to hearing about how their year has been — the personal relationships I have built through working with VITA will always be with me.”
Long said her VITA experience proved a good conversation starter in job interviews, personal conversations and advocating for the benefits of hands-on learning opportunities at WC.
Beatty cited her “great grasp” of tax law and procedures while also describing Long an outstanding recruiter.
“Shelbi did a phenomenal job at running the site. She really knowns how to think things through and effectively delegate,” Beatty said, noting how both Long and her predecessor, Tara Karnes, both had multiple job offers before graduation. Indeed, other preparers who are graduating also have jobs lined up.
“This experience can make a huge difference on a student’s resume,” he added. “It sets you so much apart from other job applicants. Our track record is pretty good that participants will have job offers before graduation. We want to continue offering this community service and providing students with this powerful hands-on learning experience.”