Professor Ramon Fernandez is an accounting professor who has volunteered with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for the last 24 years. VITA has been in existence for almost 30 years, sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service. Professor Fernandez has been a pioneer in so many ways in the program. He was the first Houston volunteer to incorporate the VITA program into the service learning curriculum of University of St. Thomas. He penned the syllabus that turned VITA into a service learning project and he has graciously shared it with universities that desired to work with the program. His syllabus has been duplicated by local universities and has been very successful in implementing their service learning programs. His site has worked with non-English speaking taxpayers and received the trust of the entire community. Without his hard work, dedication and sincere caring for these taxpayers, a lot of the non-English speaking taxpayers that are undocumented workers would not file their income tax returns due to fear. Professor Fernandez's determination to provide these taxpayers with accurate information and accurate income tax returns has resulted in connecting this community with the Internal Revenue Service and taking away the fear and lack of knowledge about tax laws and filing requirements. He and his volunteers break down many barriers when it comes to income taxes that they have taxpayers that return each year and patiently wait to be serviced.
Being undocumented may mean bypassing benefits they qualify for and may be in need of due to fear of governmental agencies and laws. At Professor Fernandez's VITA site, they can have their income tax returns prepared and electronically filed at no cost. They can also receive information on obtaining an IRS identification number that will enable them to file their income tax returns.
The students receive excellent hands on service learning experience because they manage the site and prepare the returns. The skills they learn enhance their resume building tools and are transferable to their chosen careers. The skills taught are management, customer service, computer support and data input, income tax preparation, interviewing techniques, etc. Over 50% of his volunteers return each season even after they have graduated which gives us a glimpse of how deeply he has transferred his volunteering spirit into the lives of those he teaches.
The demonstrated impact of the VITA program is measured by over 900 returns prepared, millions of dollars poured back into the community and over $180,000 saved by the taxpayers in tax preparation fees. His dedication in serving has connected diverse groups of Americans through service to help meet critical needs in the communities of others.