A Passion for Taxes
How one volunteer found her unlikely calling
We’ve all heard the phrase find your bliss. But how do you do that? One solution Katherine Green has found is through volunteer work.
I had the pleasure of meeting Katherine through the Free Tax Prep program. After eight years of volunteering as a tax preparer, reviewer, and Site Coordinator, in May of 2018, I was hired by United Way California Capital Region (UWCCR) to oversee logistics for the Free Tax Prep program. UWCCR is the lead organization of a coalition of around 50 locations that offer free tax preparation services in Amador, Placer, Sacramento, Tuolumne, and Yolo Counties.
Katherine Green has served as a volunteer for the program since 2011. She and I met last October when we were part of the training team for the new 2019 tax season volunteers. Katherine’s passion and excitement for the program matched my own and we quickly connected, bonding over tax law of all things.
Katherine’s volunteer experience began as a child at the Food Pantry at St. Vincent’s DePaul in St. Louis, MO. Alongside her mother and brother, Katherine would prepare bologna sandwiches to later hand out as part of the food distribution program. She can remember asking her mother why they were always making sandwiches for others wondering what she was getting out of the deal. With a mother’s stern kindness she explained to Katherine that volunteering was not about financial or other tangent rewards, volunteering was about the internal rewards: spiritual and emotional gratification.
Various memories such as this speckle Katherine’s childhood and into her teen years instilling a passion for helping others. By the time Katherine moved to California to attend CSU Hayward, she knew volunteering had to be a part of her life.
As a business student, she came across a flyer offering free training and materials to volunteers who wished to prepare tax returns with East Bay Asian Community Foundation in Oakland. She knew learning about taxes would be a useful life skill and here was an opportunity to not only learn the law but apply the knowledge while helping others. A perfect combination.
She attributes her success in the program to her first trainers who taught her tax law correctly. This gave her the confidence to sit down with clients and apply her knowledge to real world situations. After eight years, Katherine freely admits that she still does not know all of tax law and readily cross-checks her understanding with the materials provided by the program. When confronted with looking something up in front of a client she reassures her clients that she will never guess how to apply something. This gives her clients confidence in her abilities and trust in the program. “I like to breakdown hard complex issues into simple terms.” Katherine explains. “And people are like, ‘Oh, I get it. You’re not talking in a foreign language, you’re speaking plain English.”
After preparing her first few returns, Katherine felt an immediate sense of gratification and she knew she had found a good program. Year after year, Katherine knows she’s made the right choice in volunteer programs as her gratification continues to grow. In 2015, the state of California offered a new credit called CalEITC which can increase state refunds for low-income individuals. Katherine remembers helping a single mom complete her return that year. The mother made around $12,000 and received around an $8,000 refund between her federal and state returns. She was so excited to be able to buy a new car she broke down into tears. Katherine also found her eyes water with empathetic joy.
In addition to volunteering, Katherine has a full-time job with California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. To help her juggle a 40-hour work week with volunteering, she goes “old-school” and uses a hand-written daily planner. The planner helps her to visualize what she needs to do and reminds her where she needs to be. She combines her work schedule and personal schedule into one large picture. When it all starts to look too overwhelming, Katherine takes out a pencil and carves out some “me-time”.
While Katherine enjoys the challenges her job brings, it is her volunteer work that fulfills her passion for helping people. “When you’re working [at the Free Tax Prep program] you’re helping many individuals at a time.” Katherine recently stepped into the role of trainer. This fulfills her even more as she is able to help train multiple people at a time.
As she explains what makes a good volunteer experience, Katherine describes the Free Tax Prep program: “[It] provides a lot of support to its volunteers, which makes a big difference.” She feels like she has become a part of the program and is well valued. Many volunteers, including herself, have a sense of pride in the program. After each volunteer event she feels accomplished and leaves knowing she’s helped make a difference in someone’s life.
When asked to provide advice for new volunteers, Katherine has two recommendations: First, have at least a passing interest in tax law. You don’t have to have a background in it, but be open to learning something new. And second, be honest about your schedule. Like most volunteer opportunities, you must put in the time. You should expect to spend about 40 hours for training, studying and certifying before tax season (October – December) and then about 8-16 hours per month to volunteer during tax season (February – April).
When Katherine and I try to describe the “ideal volunteer”, we both agree, there is no ideal personality needed for tax preparation. Extroverted and introverted people alike make great volunteers for the tax program. We have wonderful volunteers who are very social and enjoy talking to clients, like Katherine, and we have great volunteers, like me, who are quieter and more introverted when dealing with the public. Yet, both Katherine and I have proven to be successful volunteers and have received those wonderful internal rewards of spiritual and emotional gratification.
I sincerely appreciate Katherine taking the time to tell her story. Last season our locations had nearly 500 volunteers assisting the public with tax preparation needs. Like Katherine, each of our volunteers has their own unique story and experiences. Our doors are always open for new volunteers to come share their stories, experiences, and desire to help others. If you are interested in joining Katherine and our other outstanding volunteers this tax season, please visit our website at yourfreetaxprep.org. We have open training sessions in November and December. Katherine and I look forward to seeing you there.