WINONA LAKE — Grace College students and community volunteers involved in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program celebrated their tenth year of service to Kosciusko County with a public reception Wednesday, Jan. 23.
The VITA program offers free tax preparation for elderly, disabled and lower-income individuals filing a tax return. Volunteers, including Grace College business students, professors and certified public accountants, have made the program possible. Since 2010, the program has completed thousands of free tax returns totaling more than $2.5 million in refunds to residents in local communities.
The VITA reception at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center began with a speech by Grace College President Dr. Bill Katip.
“1,500 people have been served and more than $2.5 million in refunds have been made,” said Katip. “We’re absolutely thrilled.”
Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer was also present at the reception.
“I’ve been amazed to hear about the progress with the VITA program and how people are getting excited about this,” said Thallemer. “It’s becoming a program that people are tending to rely on in the community, and that’s critical.”
Since 2010, the William P. Gordon Institute for Enterprise Development at the Grace College School of Business and United Way of Kosciusko County have sponsored the VITA program.
Toward the end of his speech, Thallemer asked Darren Bickel, United Way of Kosciusko president, to tell those at the reception how the first day of the beginning of this year’s program went. 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, was the first day United Way began to take appointments for individuals seeking free tax preparation. People contact the 211 hotline to schedule these appointments.
According to Bickel, about an hour after United Way began taking appointments, people began calling the Kosciusko County United Way office and saying they were having issues contacting the main 211 hotline. Bickel contacted the 211 director and asked if the hotline was having technical issues.
“He said since 8 that morning, the queue line, or how many people were waiting on the phone at that time, was 35 lines long,” said Bickel. “There are a huge number of people in Kosciusko County who live very isolated lives, and the number of people who are coming alongside to help them, who want nothing out of it than to just help them…it matters.”
To conclude the speeches, Dr. Al Grossnickle, director of the William P. Gordon Institute for Enterprise Development, asked students Ben Hough and Mallory Disher to talk to the audience about their experiences in the program. Disher is a finance major and Hough is studying information systems.
“I’ve really enjoyed being involved in VITA,” said Hough. “It’s just a really cool opportunity to not only get close to the community, but also to see how thankful they are.”
“I have really loved being a part of VITA and giving back to the community,” said Disher. “It’s been such a blessing and a great work experience.”