Faculty member Feryal Alayont is making a difference
By Monica Johnstone
Feryal Alayont is a mathematics professor who will tell you straight out that she likes problems. By that she really means that she likes finding solutions. So while thinking about where her United Way contribution goes, she started to think about how she might be able to make a difference using her skills and time even more directly for those in need. Using her love of mathematics seemed like a natural, so she decided to become trained as a tax preparer and to help train interested students.
The School of Accounting runs a site of the federally supported program VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) with help from the Grand Valley chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, a national scholastic and professional honors society. Feryal made a connection and is now a reviewer who answers questions as they come up for the students in the program.
Their clients are low income families who could use assistance with local, state, and federal taxes. They sign up for one and a half hour slots with the volunteer preparers. While the number who avail themselves of the service changes from year to year, the volunteer preparers are kept busy from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays from February through mid-April, with the exception of Spring Break.
The volunteers’ initial training allows them to address straightforward taxes. Additional levels of training are needed to advise families with more complicated situations such as military, international, rental income, capital gains, retirement accounts or health savings accounts.
“Individuals don’t file income tax returns in my native country Turkey,” Feryal observes.
“The software packages also change,” Feryal notes. “And as with most things, the first year on a new one is always a little problematic, but it gets easier as you become used to it.”
Students interested in the program do approximately a day and a half of training in December and January and take qualifying tests at the various levels. They also study standards of conduct. For instance, VITA volunteers can’t accept tips on ethical grounds. Once their training and testing is complete, students can volunteer as many hours as they are able.
As she does her own training and testing, Feryal has become aware that it is easy to make a mistake on a question due to missing a “not” or making a small arithmetic error.
“It gives me compassion for the students in my mathematics courses.”