Niagara University has been providing free income tax service (both federal and New York state) to low and moderate income individuals under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for 40 years. This service directly supports the mission of Niagara and is an important part of the university’s Learn and Serve program.
On April 21, Niagara University received three awards from the Internal Revenue Service during the College of Business Administration’s honor societies induction ceremony held in the Castellani Art Museum.
Joe Hayek and Marie Mesmer from the Internal Revenue Service presented Al Oddo, professor emeritus of accounting, the Director’s Award in recognition of 40 years of service to the VITA program. Oddo began teaching at Niagara in 1973 and retired in 2011, but has continued teaching on a part-time basis, while remaining active processing taxes for the VITA program.
“We are indebted to Al for bringing this valuable program to Niagara University 40 years ago, and for his many years of service leading the department as its chair,” said Vincent Agnello, professor of law and chair of the accounting department. “Under his leadership of the VITA program and our many student volunteers, he achieved the impossible, making it the top VITA program. In 2010, Our Niagara students completed more tax returns than any other VITA program in the country. We congratulate Professor Oddo for his achievements and thank him for his continued participation in the VITA program.”
Dr. Ian Burt, assistant professor of accounting and coordinator for Niagara’s VITA program since 2013, explained that the program offers free tax help for low to moderate income families, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and those having limited English proficiency. Trained volunteers prepare basic income tax returns. Returns are prepared on campus or at the Doris W. Jones Family Resource Building, Niagara Falls. In addition, this year they have also been assisting with remote returns for Wyoming County as they do not have a participating VITA program. Dr. Burt estimates this year that more than 80 Niagara students processed around 900 federal and state returns.
The IRS representatives also presented Niagara University with the Stakeholder Partnerships, Education & Communication (SPEC) Award for 40 years of service and the Site Award due to the VITA program being held on Niagara’s campus.
“The VITA program is an amazing opportunity for students to gain practical experience filing tax returns, while serving the local community,” said Dr. Burt. “This program exemplifies the Vincentian mission here at Niagara University.”
Tyler Popiela, assistant coordinator for the VITA program this year and graduating next week with an MBA in accounting, described the importance of this program from a student perspective.
“Vincentian values are all about showing compassion for those around us and helping people fulfill their basic necessities,” he said. “Through VITA, not only did we get hands-on experience in tax preparation, but by applying the skills learned at Niagara, we also learned about humility by helping those who need it the most.”