HELP LINE: Become a Tax-Aide volunteer to help others

ALLOW ME TO be uncharacteristically straightforward: I want you to become a Tax-Aide volunteer.

Will it be fun?

Well, I guess that depends on how you define the word “fun.”

Perhaps a more characteristically labyrinthine example would be helpful.

I spend major parts of my days reading about Medicare, or the endless rabbit trails of Medicaid, or how to attempt to navigate this or that bureaucracy or today’s change to this or that legal nuance.

It isn’t fun. In fact, it often borders on masochism in the form of coma-inducing boredom.

What is fun is when I can share and explain that stuff to someone who actually needs to know it and it changes a life — sometimes, several lives.

And that someone lights up because their life just got better (or at least less scary).

That’s fun.

It’s the same thing for the courageous folks who have traversed the gauntlet and become Tax-Aide volunteers: Becoming able to help isn’t fun; actually helping is a hoot.

If you haven’t already rolled your eyes and sent the paper sailing into the appropriate receptacle, let me explain what the gauntlet looks like.

First, you’ll have to attend new volunteer orientation classes, usually the first week of December, usually in Sequim, usually (I presume) with some respectable munchies and usually with some other genuinely decent, vaguely masochistic folks such as yourself.

Then, you’ll devote significant chunks of December to studying the IRS-provided materials and tax preparation software to learn how to do what we all want you to do.

Then, you’ll study some more.

Then, you’ll study some more.

Why? Well, you know when tax season hits, right? (If you don’t, please ignore this entire column.)

Well, the only way you’re going to be competent to do taxes by tax season is to study, study, study your pants off.

And don’t panic: You’ll have seasoned (if not scarred) Tax-Aide volunteers to mentor you along the way.

Then, you’ll go to more classes in Sequim, usually the first week of January.

Finally, you’ll become IRS-certified. (Ta-da.)

You’ll do this by passing the IRS tests at the advanced level. (Look at you.)

FYI, you’ll also have to sign the IRS Standards of Conduct around ethics and confidentiality, and if the reason for that isn’t obvious to you, please ignore this entire column.

You’re done.

Now you begin.

You’ll be expected to volunteer for at least four hours per week during tax season. Many folks do more.

Don’t panic, No. 2: The local Tax-Aide coordinators are pretty sharp about scheduling around the vagaries of your life, be that the long-scheduled excursion to Branson or the earlobe transplant.

When you actually go to work, what you’ll experience is the sincere gratitude of folks who need you: low- and middle-income and senior taxpayers.

You will change (and improve) lives. And you will take a lot of fear away.

I didn’t say this was easy, but if you’re looking for something that will make you feel alive and relevant, this is it.

What do you do?

Pretty simple, really: Go to www.aarp.org/taxaide and complete the online application.

No, you don’t have to be a member of AARP (this is the AARP Foundation), nor do the taxpayers whom you’ll help.

A local coordinator will get in touch with you, and boom. The game’s afoot.

You still have questions, even after this brilliant explanation?

Alas …

OK, you could contact these local coordinators directly:

• In the Port Angeles area, Lois Bellamy at lois_bellamy@me.com or 360-457-1497.

• In Jefferson County, it’s Ron Ryan at ronkatr@msn.com or 360-379-1226.

• Around Sequim, Julia Roberts (I know) at jroberts1957@hotmail.com or 303-887-3178.

• In the West End/Forks area, Hearst Coen at hj_coen@msn.com or 360-452-6541.

I realize that you could just as well spend December re-leveling all the pictures on the walls or researching Eastern European fruitcake recipes, but I hope you don’t.

I hope you become a Tax-Aide volunteer, because it isn’t just a thing that you do; it’s about who you are.

________

Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing harvemb@dshs.wa.gov.

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