Sonali Patel assisting someone in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program
(Photo Credit: Nick Ng) Accounting major Sonali Patel assists a senior citizen with taxes at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago
"“This new initiative is the first of many that will allow our business students to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it to real-life situations out in the field." Asghar Sabbaghi Dean, Heller College of Business

When Chicagoan Anna Marie learned that the Roosevelt University Heller College of Business student helping to prepare her income taxes grew up in Mumbai, India, the senior citizen grew animated.

“Have you seen Masterpiece Theatre’s “The Jewel in the Crown?” asked Anna Marie as she handed 24-year-old Sonali Patel, an accounting major from Des Plaines, Illinois, her property tax bill and social security card.

“It was really a great PBS series! It did a wonderful job of telling the history of India during the 1940s and its fight for independence from the British.”

Among 16 Roosevelt business students who trained earlier this year to be volunteer tax preparers with the not-for-profit organization Ladder Up, Sonali smiles as her first client of the morning gushes over the award-winning PBS series.

“I had experience in accounting with taxes in India,” Patel says of her interest in volunteering as a tax preparer in the run up to this year’s April 17 Tax Day. “I wanted to be able to use my knowledge, learn about the U.S. tax system and help someone too,” added the international business student, who aims to become a certified public accountant after graduating from Roosevelt in May 2019.

Roosevelt accounting and finance students like Patel are being encouraged by the Heller College to participate in the Internal Revenue Service’s  Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program that annually offers free help to individuals and families of modest means in partnership with organizations like Ladder Up.

“When I joined Roosevelt last fall, one of my goals was to see that our students, in keeping with the University’s social justice mission, have opportunities to give back to their communities,” said Heller College Dean Asghar Sabbaghi.

“This new initiative is the first of many that will allow our business students to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it to real-life situations out in the field,” said Sabbaghi.

The volunteer VITA Program providing free tax preparation services for individuals with annual incomes up to $30,000 and families earning up to $55,000 is an ideal way for college accounting and finance majors to increase skills, build resumes and further career paths.

“I’m really thrilled to see my alma mater involved in this program,” said Judy Andringa, a 1982 accounting graduate of Roosevelt’s Heller College who sits on the Ladder Up advisory board, and regularly volunteers as a tax preparer.

A true Roosevelt success story, Andringa is a certified public accountant who worked as a controller and eventually vice president of finance at a number of major companies including Kraft Foods, W.W. Grainger and Underwriters Laboratories, where she headed up divisions in North America, Asia and Europe.

“I’ve had a fantastic run in finance, and it all began with a Roosevelt degree that initially opened doors for me,” said Andringa, a University of Chicago MBA graduate who highly recommends Roosevelt business students devote themselves early to giving back to the community as part of their career path.

Patel, who has already assisted multiple clients at the Ladder UP site at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, could not be happier to have had the volunteer experience.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to meet and interact with so many people. You get to see the relief on their faces when the process of preparing their taxes is completed. It feels great to be able to help,” she said.

Anna Marie, who asked that her last name not be used for this article, agreed as well that she couldn’t be happier with the help she’s received in completing the task of filing income taxes, which otherwise might be daunting.

“I think it’s one of the greatest services out there, and I’m very, very thankful,” said the senior citizen. ”It is convenient. The hours and location are easy, and everybody is friendly and helpful. It’s a process that has to get done, and in this case it’s free!” she said.

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