Volunteers help seniors, low income residents prepare taxes
Despite a spring snowstorm, Anchorage residents assembled at the Crosspoint Community Church on the city’s west side April 6 for the opportunity to have their taxes done free of charge.
Three such “Super Saturday” events are held each year in Anchorage during tax season when Internal Revenue Service-certified AARP tax aide volunteers are made available to the city’s low income and senior populations.
During the 2011 tax season, AARP volunteers helped more than 5,600 Anchorage residents not only save an estimated $860,000 in tax preparation costs but also pocket more than $9 million in refunds, according to United Way of Anchorage, which coordinates the events.
“The tax preparers are very in tune with making sure the taxpayers that they’re helping get all the tax credits they deserve,” said United Way Director of Community Action Maureen Haggblom.
While the snow may have deterred some individuals, there were 25 to 30 people waiting for help from one of six AARP volunteers throughout most of the six-hour, April 6 event. Balloon tiers and face painters volunteered to help children pass the time as their parents worked on their 1040s and W-2s.
United Way tracks the demographics of those who have their taxes done at the events, Haggblom said, and the majority of people seeking help have an income of between $20,000 and $25,000 per year, or are senior citizens.
Several years ago, Rene Leach went to a similar event in Palmer; now she volunteers for AARP in Anchorage. Leach said she was a new widow at the time.
“I had shattered nerves because my husband had taken care of that stuff and I’m in my 60s,” she said. “I went in very nervous, very unable to do anything really and the gal said, ‘It’s OK, we can do it for you. Tell me your name.’”
Leach said the simple reassurance provided her with the knowledge that her someone was there to help her.
This year marked her fourth year of volunteering as a greeter and coordinator for AARP. Leach said she tries to calm down those people who may be uneasy or unsure about what they should and who is going to help them with something as important as their taxes.
“If you smile at them and get them to smile back it usually helps,” she said.
IRS Senior Tax Consultant Kris Ashley has been working at the tax preparation days for nearly 25 years, she said.
“It’s really a great program. It’s all volunteers on a shoestring,” Ashley said.
Coinciding with tax season, April is national Financial Literacy Month. Haggblom said United Way tries to maximize the opportunity provided by people gathering to have their taxes done by inviting other organizations that offer financial management advice and programs tailored to those who may not have had anyone offer sound money advice to them
in the past.
Rick Thomas is a counselor for Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling firm with locations in 26 states across the country. His organization offers debt management options and helps people solve issues with their credit history that they may not know exist or how to handle properly. On this day, Thomas was offering free credit reports.
“We’re here to help support the tax preparation and it helps us get more involved in the community,” he said. “It also helps us gain exposure when we’re at these kinds of wonderful events.”
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].