The 2009 tax season has started out a bit different than the ’08 season did. I got engaged over the summer, so much of my free time is spent with wedding planning stuff. Because of that, I got kind of a late start with getting certified this year. There was a lot of information that I had forgotten, so I needed to refresh some of my tax knowledge. A big shout out to my fellow UW volunteer, Jack, for keeping me motivated on studying. I think we helped each other pass the test. We didn’t cheat—don’t worry. It was more like group study.
I finally got certified by the end of January and decided to do my first day on Feb. 13th—showin people some love by doin taxes. I now live very close to Madisonville Community Center, so I knew I would be going there again. I kind of have a soft spot for this location now.
A new and great improvement this year from the 2008 tax program is electronic scheduling. Whoever thought of doing this for the EITC program is a genius. It is so much easier to plan when and where to volunteer. As soon I got certified, I scheduled every day I want to volunteer this year. I made a goal of volunteering 4 days this year, every other Saturday in February and March. That is more than what I did last year, but still allows me time to do wedding planning.
The tax site had closed the previous week due to the weather, so I knew there was going to be a lot of people waiting to get their taxes done today. When I got there, people were waiting outside because the Community Center employee was still getting things set up. I only had to wait for 5 minutes, but some people had been waiting out in the cold for a little while. The earlier you get there, the sooner you get done.
The employee let me inside because I was a volunteer, but when I went to the computer room, there was nobody there. This shocked me because the site coordinators are always there early to set up. I was worried that this session might have gotten cancelled and I didn't know (nor did all the people outside). Or, if they were running late, it would take us that much longer to get through everyone. The employee began setting up chairs for people to come in and sit down.
I was really worried we were gonna have to turn people away, but 5 minutes later, Barb*, the new site coordinator, came in. She had gotten stuck outside. I had worked with Barb last year as a volunteer, so I knew who she was very experienced. It was nice to see a familiar face.
John*, another volunteer, also came in and we all got everything set up quickly. The patrons came in and started filling out the necessary paperwork to get them started. There were not as many people as I remembered from last year, and not as many as I was expecting. But there were still enough to keep us all busy. Another employee of the Community Center came in and set up the computers for us. Mary*, another volunteer, came in as well. There were 4 of us so far, which was a good number. Mary was a returning volunteer and John was new. We also had another new volunteer, Kim*, come in a little later.
I had a different perspective this year. John and Kim had little to no volunteer experience so far, so they had to rely on Mary, Barb and me to help them. It was kind of cool to return the favor from when I was helped a lot on my first day volunteering. Like I said before, the volunteers all work together to make sure we are doing everything right and making sure we help as many people as possible. Every return is double and triple checked before it gets filed.
Most of the returns I had this day were pretty simple. Everything came back to me quickly and easily. Like I said--learning to ride a bike. I only had one person with real estate taxes and mortgage interest. The hardest return I had was a person who lived in Ohio, but worked in Kentucky. So I had to figure out how to put several local taxes on a single W-2. I was actually very proud of myself for completing this one—I learned something new this day.
Most people who I helped were single filers, no kids, with straightforward income and deductions. Something I was kind of shocked about was the number of people filing unemployment compensation—definitely a lot more last year. I think I only had 1 married couple. Of course, we had more than that being helped by the other volunteers. Mr. & Mrs. Wilson* returned from when I helped them in 2008—yeah!! They were helped by another volunteer, but I was glad to see them again. I don’t think they remembered me, though...
Since most of the returns were fairly simple, I was able to get through them pretty quickly. The time it takes to actually fill out the return is not very long. It actually takes longer to interview and review the return than it does to fill it out. When doing a return we have to make sure we go through an interview before anything is started on the computer. Patrons absolutely have to have an I.D. and their Social Security cards for themselves, and their spouses and dependants if they have any, before we do anything. We tell them before they even fill out the paperwork to have all their documentation or else we can not do the return. I have had to send some people home to get their stuff before—they don’t like to hear that, but it’s to protect them.
The Community Center told us we had to finish everyone by 3 p.m. We are supposed to close at 2 p.m., but I learned quickly that doesn’t ever happen. Usually we just do everyone, even though it takes us over the time limit. I mean we don’t want to turn people away who have been sitting there all day to get their taxes done. We were pushing it to the max this day in order to get all the people filed. We did end up having to tell some people to come back the next time because they had really complicated returns and we didn’t have enough time to get through them on this day.
The most memorable patron I helped this day was George*. Most of the people we help have low income. George was no exception, but his was probably one of the lowest I had filed. However, he was the happiest person I have probably ever helped (at least he seemed that way). He was very talkative the whole time I was doing his return—very friendly personality. He moved here from another state and was in the construction business, but was having a hard time finding a steady job. He worked part time at fast food restaurant and went down to Job and Family Services to find employment every chance he got. He was trying to get on the construction crew to build the new train rail from Cincinnati to Cleveland that is apparently starting up in a year or so. I must live in a box because I don’t remember hearing anything about this before George told me. That is why he became my favorite patron of the day.
I volunteer again this weekend. Look for my blog about it next week!
*Names have been changed to protect identity.