VOL. 130 | NO. 103 | Thursday, May 28, 2015
Christian Brothers Students Help Secure Tax Refunds
By Andy Meek
As an outgrowth of a new Christian Brothers University course on poverty in America, a group of IRS-certified students brought some major relief to a few hundred Memphis-area families this tax season.
The eight students from CBU assistant professor Dr. Jennifer Weske’s course helped more than 400 working families in Memphis claim $554,000 in refunds. They also saved them $120,000 in commercial tax preparation fees.
The effort was through the SaveFirst initiative by Impact America, an AmeriCorps program through the University of Alabama. The CBU students served those families in partnership with the Binghampton Development Corp., which teamed up with SaveFirst as an accounting assistance hub.
Weske, who’s also the director of the master of accountancy program in the Christian Brothers University School of Business, trained the students in their IRS certifications through her new course. Titled “Poverty, Faith and Justice in America,” it’s a “service-learning” course that will be offered each spring and kicked off with a look at how poverty is portrayed through the media.
The first iteration of the class included eight students, though Weske said she has room for 24. Since it was a pilot year for the class, the plan was to keep participation to a maximum of 10 students at first.
The course, Weske said, has proven to be the “most motivating” in her years as a professor so far.
“The tax project was completed by April 1,” she said of the course’s service element. “The students learned so much and loved meeting people in the community. When you see a single parent with four and five W-2s, it makes you realize how hard they’re working to try to make their life work, and the students loved being able to show them the importance of education and discussing how you budget to save what you can for a rainy day.”
Weske trained the students in IRS certifications as part of the course. And it wasn’t just limited to accounting majors. She allowed students of any major to enroll.
“In the class through their research, the students really started to explore options of what can we do to help minimize poverty, to address poverty,” Weske said. “There were things they found that shocked them, one of them being the transportation system in Memphis. Because of our transportation system, when people who try to work can’t get to work or if they miss the bus, they can end up an hour late because our bus system goes all the way out, runs back Downtown and you get on another bus to get where you’re going.”
Another topic that captured the students’ attention was the amount of money spent on incarcerations, money the students thought could be better spent on things like early childhood education and working with young mothers.