The Power of Civic Engagement Across Maine’s Institutions of Higher EducationWritten by Western Maine CA$H | Published on June 17, 2021
American Sign Language Tax Day with student interpreters, CA$H Greater Portland
Pictured left to right: Thomas Minch, Alison Stroshane (USM Student), Stephanie Crowley (USM Student), Sarah Vigliano (USM Student), Kerrie Keller, Meryl Troop, Joni Boissoneault and Christie Gaydos.
“I would say it is one of the more rewarding things you could possibly do… there is something about doing taxes, something so close to every U.S. citizen, that makes it that much more rewarding” -Alex Ozols, Colby College
Students from 6 Maine institutions of higher education volunteer with CA$H Maine
For Alex Ozols, a student at Colby College, and the other student volunteers at CA$H tax sites around the state, volunteering with CA$H Maine this year provided both a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Students from six schools came together virtually this year to provide free tax preparation and share money management resources with Mainers statewide. CA$H Maine worked with partner programs at colleges across Maine to recruit the students’ support. University of Maine at Augusta (UMA), University of Southern Maine (USM), Colby College, Bates College, Central Maine Community College (CMCC) and University of Maine Farmington (UMF) all participated in this year’s effort to provide free tax preparation to community members.
Students at UMA found CA$H Maine through the Accounting Program and Professors Thomas Giordano and Gary Page. Jessica Parks and Leah Kovitch, both students in the accounting program, are interested in going into the accounting profession after graduation. Jessica reflects that her favorite part about volunteering was “getting to meet others who had worked in the accounting field and getting to ask them questions.” Through her volunteer work, Jessica was able to do an informational interview with a volunteer working in her field and practice her accounting skills.
Professor Giordano shares that for UMA Accounting students, “It has been a great opportunity for students to actually prepare tax returns while engaging with real tax data.” Giordano also says that “volunteering is an important aspect of being a responsible accounting professional.”
What the students said about their experience
When asked about her experience with CA$H, Cassandra Fraser at CMCC pointed out the need for free tax services in Maine:
“It felt so good to be able to help those in need, and not charge them anything. So many tax sites charge a lot of money to complete taxes. People on a fixed income are already living on a tight budget. It was incredible to take the stress of taxes off their shoulders”
Despite the financial stress faced by many Mainers, Cassandra says tax filers were “understanding and grateful” to have her assistance. Student volunteers could see that their efforts were making an impact. Jaden Witte-Schrock at Bates College noticed his impact when “getting to know local people and seeing the relief on their faces.” Mary Lecours, a student at CMCC, also noticed the relief of tax filers, many of them part of an older population seeking tax assistance this year. Mary saw “tears of relief and tears of joy” in the eyes of tax filers struggling to make ends meet. She and others were able to share important information with tax filers that would make a difference in the lives of many – tax credits. Making tax filers aware of tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Property Tax Fairness Credit, and Sales Tax Fairness Credit were a big part of the job. Mary notes that “a few hundred dollars may not seem like much for some people, but for many it is half their monthly income.”
Alli Bassman-Lyons, a student at Colby College, served this year as an opportunity guide. Alli says she most enjoyed moments when the people she spoke to “really seemed to appreciate what she had to say and were interested in the resources she had to offer.” Students at Colby College were introduced to CA$H Maine’s efforts through the Office of Civic Engagement and the Program and Outreach Coordinator, Kristin Bishop. The majority of the eight students participating from Colby College live at the Bill and Joan Alfond Maine Street Commons, a living and learning community dedicated to civic engagement. Bishop shared that participating students “identified their civic goals and interests and built the skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to the critical work of community partners.”
The power of civic engagement
With a wide variety of interests bringing students from around the State to CA$H Maine’s VITA tax sites, their collective work has made a great impact on the lives of Mainers. This year’s student involvement in CA$H Maine’s work reminds us of the power of civic engagement across Maine’s institutions of higher education. We can’t wait to see students join us again next year.
For more information about CA$H Maine and volunteering, go to cashmaine.org