Beyond the Numbers
MATC accounting instructor Jim Benedum teaches his students about much more than balancing books and working with numbers. By setting a positive example through his own actions and offering quotations from wise sages, he inspires students to live life fully and help other people. He has practiced what he teaches for a quarter century as a volunteer income tax preparer.
Benedum is known for offering an inspirational quote or an occasional joke to students during each class and in online communications. He says, "I try to appeal to the students' honor, their higher selves. Most see that and respond. MATC students are the kind of people who realize that nothing will be given to them. They have to earn it. They know they have to work hard to achieve their goals."
Inspires Self and Students
"For many, it is as if they are hearing these types of words for the first time in their lives," he says. "I'm not convinced they hear messages like this elsewhere. It helps me inspire myself, too. How could I be lazy if I am constantly reading to them about how they should be energetic?"
A few of his favorite quotations: "The happiest and most contented people are those who each day perform to make the best of their abilities." - Alfred Montapert. "To be happy, drop the words 'if only' and substitute instead the words 'next time.'" - Smiley Blanton. "Fall seven times, stand up eight." – Japanese proverb.
"Some of the quotes are quite good," says former student Joe Spence. "I saw the effect in the faces of students who'd had a bad day. When he read quotes or jokes, you could see the smiles cracking on the sides of their faces and it changed their moods."
"When you're a volunteer, the volunteer benefits as much as the recipient."
For the past 26 years, Benedum also has made a difference by running the VITA program at the Oak Creek Campus. In cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and Internal Revenue Service, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides free income tax preparation for moderate- and low-income people. Benedum, his accounting students and graduates provide the service, also offered now at the Downtown Milwaukee Campus.
Benedum's first supervisor at MATC, Rick Huber, asked him to start the program. Benedum continued it when Huber left the college a year later, because he enjoyed helping people and wanted to afford the same chance to his current and former students. "The program has been a blessing," he says. "When you're a volunteer, the volunteer benefits as much as the recipient. It has two benefits for my students. The practical experience is helpful and looks good on their resumes. And they gain the tremendous satisfaction of knowing they've helped someone."
"The fact that it requires so much effort makes it such a great program," Benedum explains. "It's like there's a magic formula in life. The more you put into something, the more you get out of it. You reap what you sow. . . Some of the people come back every year, and they treat me as a friend. A couple years ago, a single mom came in and she cried with happiness when she realized she would be eligible for an earned income credit. A tax service had tried to charge her $180 to help her with her taxes. She just couldn't afford it."
Volunteer Sabrina Schmidt, an MATC accounting graduate, says, "It's hard work, but it's worth it when you're helping people who you know can't afford to go to a paid preparer, like senior citizens on fixed incomes, single parents who don't have money or students making under $12,000 per year."
The volunteers have been e-filing tax returns over the past few years, which has sped up the process and allowed the preparers to help more individuals. Last year, the preparers at the Oak Creek Campus site helped more than 400 people.
About a dozen students and grads volunteer to help at the Oak Creek Campus each year. "The volunteers are popping their buttons, they're feeling so good about themselves," Benedum says. "They're just beaming. This isn't just writing a check to the Katrina fund. This is helping people face-to-face in the way they need it most."
For more information on MATC's Accounting associate degree program, see: