SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Since 2012, under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program started by associate professor of accounting Jenny Bem, Wofford College students have volunteered to provide free tax preparation assistance to low- to moderate-income individuals who are unable to prepare their own tax returns.

For her work, Bem recently was named to the 2020 Hall of Fame by Impact America, which operates the IRS-sponsored VITA as part of its SaveFirst initiative. Wofford partnered with Impact America beginning in 2016, moving the volunteer program from the Wofford campus to the Spartanburg County Public Libraries Headquarters in downtown.

Bem was the honoree from the Carolinas market of Impact America for “creating lasting impact in our community.”

“I am incredibly honored, of course, but I’m so grateful for what Impact America has done to expand this program and reach a greater number of Spartanburg families,” Bem says. “Everyone who knows me knows that I love taxes. So, this initiative is very near and dear to my heart. It is a privilege to work alongside others who are passionate about serving.”

“The VITA program run by Professor Bem and her students embodies in important ways the kind of impactful, engaged learning that is a hallmark of a Wofford education,” says Provost Mike Sosulski. “This project combines theory and practice, giving students the chance to put their knowledge immediately to work in a vital, real-world setting. This kind of mutually beneficial work lifts up those in need in our community and transforms the student experience. None of it would be possible without Professor Bem’s vision and leadership, and she is most deserving of an honor like this.”

Bem says she started the VITA program at Wofford as “an excellent way for students to get real-world experience while also benefitting the community. I often hear from the students that while the technical experience is beneficial, the personal interactions with clients are the most impactful.”

Wofford students are able to register for a one-credit-hour course to work with the program. “They take a series of tests and commit to volunteering during the entire tax season,” says Bem.

In addition to Wofford students, Impact America has a number of AmeriCorps volunteers who operate the program in Spartanburg. “Prior to our partnership with Impact America, I was the sole site coordinator,” Bem says. “As a full-time faculty member with a busy family, I was only able to operate our program six hours a week, completing approximately 300 returns each tax season. Last year, Impact America completed over 1,000 tax returns and was open anywhere from 12 to 28 hours each week, depending on demand.”