High-school senior Sarah LaJeunesse can prepare her parents' taxes better than they can.
"I like to rub that in my mom's face sometimes," she told The Evangelist.
Sarah and her accounting classmates at Catholic Central High School in Troy are IRS-certified tax-preparers. Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, they prepare returns for low- to moderate-income people in the community every spring.
Accounting students at CCHS have been participating in VITA for a decade. About 40 students will volunteer twice a week between February and April at Catholic Charities' site at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Albany.
This is Sarah's second year as a volunteer; she elected to take advanced accounting this year.
"I was not expecting to like it as much as I did," she said of the class. "I ended up loving it."
Sarah plans to study accounting when she enters Siena College next fall. She aims to earn a master's degree in business, become a certified public accountant and open her own firm.
"The numbers excite me. I'm a big nerd," she joked.
The VITA program also showed Sarah that she enjoys working with people and discovering their financial backgrounds.
"A lot of these people depend on this money to get out of debt or pay their bills," she said. The highest return she got for a client last year was $3,000: "That's one less person that's not in trouble, that's not suffering."
CCHS junior Dawn Pluckrose, also an advanced accounting student, has noticed the same dependence among clients: "A lot of times, they need the refund to support their families."
Dawn is considering accounting and pharmacy as college majors. She said clients are surprised when they see teenage tax-preparers.
"No one's really nervous about it," she said, "but they are shocked that we can do this."
Dawn advises taxpayers to ask professionals questions and warns that items like education credits and medical expenses are easily forgotten. Volunteering consumes the whole school day for students like her; they alternate so they only miss one day of classes a week.
"We have to stay on top of our grades," Dawn said. "Teachers understand." Some even turn to the students for tax advice: "It feels good knowing that I can help someone."