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Students Receive Community Service Awards

Written by Kate Harner

Willimantic, CT -- Five Eastern Connecticut State University business and accounting students were honored by the Access Community Action Agency at its annual meeting on Oct. 26.  President/CEO Peter DeBiasi and Mary DeMarco, chairperson of the Access Board of Directors, presented the awards.

Brian Mills '11, a business administration major from Tolland; Linsy Lopez '13 from Hartford; Ogoegbunam Chukwuogor '12, an accounting major from Mansfield Center; Noemi Tello '11, an accounting major from Norwich; and Charlotte Smith '14, a business administration major from West Hartford, received the Volunteer Recognition Award for their work with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The student volunteers, who participated in the VITA program as part of the activities of Eastern's Center for Community Engagement (CCE), were trained and certified in the newest tax laws by the IRS to provide free income tax preparation for low-income tax filers.

"Last season, $1,611,244 in federal refunds were channeled through Windham VITA sites, $588,006 of which can be attributed to the Earned Income Tax Credit," said Mills. "However, to many residents, the benefits of the VITA program are more than a number. After finding out that his refund would be much larger than expected, one client said that he would finally be able to make repairs to his vehicle and begin working again."

"Through the tax returns, we were able to help many Willimantic residents receive the money they deserved and otherwise may not have gotten," said Charlotte Smith.  "Seeing their reactions and how happy they were to receive any amount of money was gratifying. I look forward to participating again in the VITA program this coming year."

"I think the VITA program is the most enriching program I have been involved with," said Chukwuogor. "I am very honored and humbled to be a recipient of this award and encourage everyone to volunteer as much as they are able to. When you help someone out without asking for anything in return, you feel like you have made a little difference in the world. We should not underestimate the little differences we are able to make because little drops of water make a mighty ocean. I am very glad to have been a part of VITA and thank the community for an opportunity to serve."

The Access Agency is a nonprofit community action agency that has been working in Windham and Tolland Counties since 1965. Its staff and volunteers help individuals and families rise above the challenges of poverty by offering participants programs that provide food, housing assistance, mentoring, life skills training and more. Due to Access Agency's efforts last year, 8,177 households received help to pay home-heating costs; 181,000 meals and snacks were provided to low-income children; and 970 tax returns were prepared at no cost to low-income tax filers.

For more information, contact the CCE at


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