Volunteers help make tax time a little less taxing for low-income
February 15, 2010
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA
Me? I'm as nice as the next guy. I'll help people pick up dropped parcels, shovel the elderly neighbor's walk, drop a buck in the donation jar, that sort of thing.
But I'm not that nice: I've never once volunteered in a soup kitchen or spent time hanging out with the grannies in the nursing home -- it takes a very, very special person to give away their time or talent to others. Especially when that talent is highly in demand and can be charged at a premium.
For instance, it's now that time when the organized and money-savvy in our midst are reaping the rewards of an active left brain. And the very, very special ones have geared up -- in the shadow of the most financially troubled year in decades -- to help the neediest tackle that which makes even semi-organized chumps like me quake in my boots: tax returns.
Take John Kintner. As a volunteer for the Center for Economic Progress' cadre of tax and financial experts, he is giving up two evenings a week from mid-January to mid-April to help low-income people file their tax returns. Since 1990, the center, with more than 1,200 volunteers across Illinois, has been helping needy folks make the most of the Earned Income and Child Tax credits -- and probably a bunch of other ones most of us wouldn't understand. About 230,000 families have gotten $340 million back from Uncle Sam.
When he started nine years ago, Kintner could have made a sweet dime on the side of his CPA day job turning around tax documents for those of us able to pay for such expertise. But no, Kintner -- jealous of his wife's volunteer work for a different social service organization -- decided to put his skills to use by getting trained to serve others.
"It's so satisfying to help people who work really hard and don't make a lot from it during the year," he told me. "When they come to us, we're making available something they would not have known about, and getting great service."
Can you imagine?! Why don't we all serve like this?
Of course, Kintner isn't alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 63.4 million people volunteered for an organization at least once between September 2008 and September 2009, and they're all a breed apart.
To hear these people talk you'd think that the clients they serve are doing them the favor by uniting them with like-minded volunteers and providing a few fun nights out of the house to help others count their beans.
But Bill Barltey of Bloomington, a volunteer for eight years, does admit to delighting in seeing people's relief at getting the dreaded task over with and walking out with a few extra dollars, too. "It's a good thing to do, we really are accomplishing something and people walk out very grateful and pleased, very happy to get help," he said.
If you've been wondering about being called to serve others -- and you needn't limit yourself to financial volunteerism -- Jerry Inguagiato is great inspiration. As tax-prep volunteer for the center, he has been doing this work for about nine years on the Truman College campus in Chicago, helping people from all over the world. He shrugs and says it's simply an "easy" way to make the world a better place for people one day at a time.
"I do it just to give back to society because I'm really blessed in my life," said Inguagiato, a full-time CPA from the suburbs. "My ancestors came on a boat from Sicily. Truman has a very diverse client base, a lot of people new to the country, and it's a way for me to give back to my grandparents. I hope someone helped them when they got here."
Wow. Maybe we should all consider being nicer than the next guy by giving of our time and talent. Let's join the breed -- we'll be in good company.