DU students help community fill out taxes

By Kristina Antol

February 13, 2013

For many, April 15meant cheap burgers at McDonalds but for those who have jobs and many responsibilities, April 15 is “Tax Day.”

For many of us, “Tax Day” becomes an important and stressful deadline and for the many low-income families of Chicago, this is a bigger hassle than one can imagine.  To do their part in the community, many Dominican University students have been teaming up with LadderUp to help those less fortunate complete their taxes for free.

LadderUp is a local non-profit organization that dates back to 1994. Over the years, LadderUp has been teaming up with a plethora of respected organizations from the Chicago-land area to help underprivileged Chicago residents complete their tax-refunds for free.

Some of these organizations include, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, McDonald’s Corporations and institutions such as University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University and of course Dominican University.   According to the organization’s website, “over 16,000 Ladder Up volunteers have returned $335 million to 165,000 hardworking clients over their 18 years of service.”

New volunteers go through a short training session that introduces them to introductory tax law and tax software. After the training session, the volunteers work sessions, usually on Saturday mornings and help the customers. The volunteers fill out the entire forms independently while all of the tax forms are looked over by professionals before they are submitted to prevent any mistakes.

Dominica University has been part of Ladder Up’s efforts since Professor of Accounting Steve Harrington at Dominican University teamed up with them in 1998.

Professor Harrington actually received the idea from a previous professor of his, signifying that free tax-service programs are not a new trend but a great program that has been steadily growing.  Professor Harrington said that none of the students are forced to participate in the program but that many of the students find the opportunity rewarding and chose to participate on their own behalf.

Former volunteer and current student at Dominican University Muriel Adams stated,” I had a great experience as a LadderUp volunteer.  I met people from all walks of life…  There was a sense of camaraderie and the clients were extremely appreciative…  I worked at several different locations and at each location there was a feeling of community.  Different neighborhoods, languages and cultures did not change this underlying feeling.”

More recently, Associate Professor of Business Ethics Elizabeth Collier has added the volunteer opportunity to her curriculum as well.

Due to the collaboration of Collier and Harrington, the program has rapidly grown in popularity at Dominican University. In the first year, the program had only about five volunteers from Dominican but now has an average of about 60 volunteers a year.

Professor Harrington credits the program’s success due to the double-sided benefits this opportunity offers. “The student volunteers are benefiting by learning tax law, learning how to work tax software, and are experiencing offering a professional service to a client; while the client receives a free tax return,” Harrington said.

With thousands of Chicago-land residents taking advantage of LadderUp services every year, the program looks to grow even more in the future, both in the community and at Dominican.