April 17, marks this year’s tax return deadline. While some people may be scrambling at the last minute to complete their return or file an extension, a talented group of volunteers has been quietly working behind the scenes since February to help area residents with their tax filings.
They volunteer as part of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation Tax-Aide program.
Tax-Aide offers free tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers, as well as people age 50+ who cannot afford a tax preparation service. Participants don’t have to be an AARP member, and there’s no age requirement to get tax help from IRS-certified volunteers. Nationally, Tax-Aide is celebrating its 50th anniversary, having helped 50 million tax payers during its history.
A strong demand for this service keeps local volunteers busy. “Each year, between 500 and 700 households from the Northfield and Faribault areas have their taxes prepared by our volunteers,” says volunteer and local coordinator Kevin Fink. “A multi-page taxpayer waiting list occurs because all appointment slots are filled before the second week of February.”
Sixteen volunteers either prepare taxes or serve as Client Facilitators that prepare taxpayers for their filing appointments. In addition to Fink, this year’s volunteers include: Jan Gilblom, Wendy Malecha, Carol Korda, Rick Hucka, Denise Hucka, Jon Reid, Helen Lind, Roger Vanveldhuizen, Rita Olson, Brad Anderson, Kathy Rinehart, Kathy Bjerke, Julie Bongers, Larry Walsh and Katy Gillispie.
According to Fink, taxes are prepared from the second week of February through the filing deadline date in mid-April, plus a single day after the income tax deadline in both Northfield and Faribault when property tax refund tax returns are prepared.
He adds that in Northfield, tax returns are prepared two days each week at FiftyNorth (formerly the Northfield Senior Center) and on Fridays at the Faribault Senior Center. Neither host charges a fee for use of a room where taxes are prepared. Taxpayers often give a donation to the host in thanks for the service the volunteers provide. In March, volunteers go to the Northfield Retirement Community, Three Links and Valley View Assisted Living in Northfield to prepare taxes.
“The service that the AARP tax prep volunteers provide the community is invaluable,” says Lynne Pederson, executive director of FiftyNorth. “At FiftyNorth, 270 people have appointments and 57 people are on the waiting list. Because the volunteers are so dedicated to the people that need the service, they will find a way to help the people on the waiting list, too.“
Longtime tax prep volunteer Denise Hucka believes recognition should be shared with the receptionists at both FiftyNorth and Faribault Senior Center. They schedule the tax appointments, make reminder calls, check clients in and give them the intake forms to complete.
Hucka has served as a volunteer for 22 years. Having the opportunity to personally help someone keeps her coming back every year. She fondly recalls a client who sought tax return assistance approximately 20 years ago.
“This woman was in tears and explained that her husband died that year, and he had handled all of the finances,” says Hucka. “She was so worried about doing the taxes that she was not sleeping at night and could not afford to hire someone to do them. I assured her I would go through her stack of documents and figure it all out. By the time she left, she had a smile on her face and said, ‘I know I will sleep tonight; thank you from the bottom of my heart.’
“Little did this lady know the gift she gave me with her words, which have impacted my life for 20 years now,” Hucka continues. “For each breath we take, we have so many opportunities to touch someone’s life positively.”