Goodwill Industries announced Thursday a partnership with the Northern Illinois University College of Business and the DeKalb County CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Coalition which will allow low-income residents to have their taxes prepared free of charge by NIU accountancy students.
The free tax service will be available from noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays starting Jan. 26 at the Goodwill store located at 1037 S. Annie Glidden Road.
DeKalb area residents earning less than $25,000 a year and families with an income less than $50,000 qualify for the service.
“Today is really a landmark day for us because we’re going to be able to do some real hands on mission work in the DeKalb-Sycamore area,” said Sam Schmitz, president of Goodwill Northern Illinois.
Denise Schoenbachler, dean of the NIU College of Business, said that it’s important to find mutually beneficial relationships between NIU and the DeKalb community.
“We have a situation where we have accounting students who want the experience with tax preparation to hone their skills, to develop good client service skills, to develop communication skills and their critical thinking skills,” Schoenbachler said. “And we have a community with need. It’s a beautiful partnership for us.”
NIU accountancy students have participated in Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs for almost 20 years. Schoenbachler said that the VITA stations had primarily been housed in the College of Business and assisted mostly fellow students and NIU employees, but faculty members Brad Cripe and chair Jim Young saw potential for more learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
“They’re the ones who met with Goodwill and initiated the concept of bringing this to DeKalb,” Schoenbachler said. “They really work hard to provide these experiences for the students. They’re the ones who made this happen for us.”
More than 30 NIU accountancy students have volunteered to participate.
“Our students will get to serve a whole different clientele, a much larger clientele and get a different experience,” Schoenbachler said. “Students that take part in the VITA program with Goodwill Industries will develop a lot of skills they wouldn’t get anywhere else. It’ll take them out of the classroom and put them directly into the business world where they may experience unique circumstances.”
Goodwill VITA sites in the Rockford area have provided nearly 1,900 tax returns in last two years, accumulating more than $2.5 million.