Volunteer service makes time of year less stressful for seniors

Community Times

Most people dread the time leading up to the April tax deadline, but thanks to a free service provided by AARP clients at the Reisterstown Senior Center have one less thing to worry about.

Each Friday morning the center starts buzzing with seniors showing up for their appointments with tax information in hand as volunteer tax counselors sit ready to help out.

The volunteers who have been extensively trained and certified in tax preparation began helping folks at the center in February and will continue there until April 14 (Because April 15, the usual tax-due date falls on a Saturday in 2017 and Monday is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia, tax returns this year are due on Tuesday, April 18.) Besides the Reisterstown Senior Center, the AARP free tax service is available at 21 other locations in the region.

"This is a national program," said Sally Cavanaugh, center director for the Baltimore County Department of Aging at the Reisterstown site. "We just provide the space."

Cavanaugh said the center, at 12035 Reisterstown Road, has been participating in the program for the past five years. The service is for seniors and those with disabilities.

She said staff members start taking appointments in January. This year, all the time slots, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., were filled by March 1. She pointed out that the toll-free number for AARP can direct seniors to other sites that might have openings.

Taxes can be confusing as is, and now with forms from the IRS only on its website, a lot of people are not comfortable doing their taxes electronically.

Charlotte Levin, 72, is a volunteer at the senior center; her husband, a former accountant, used to do their taxes until he passed away, she said. She was paying for tax assistance but switched to the AARP's free service and has been quite pleased with it.

"The preparers are very nice," Levin said. "They (the clients) can also donate (for the service) if they want — the money goes to the senior center."

Linda Lassiter, coordinator of the Baltimore district for the AARP Tax-Aide program, said many volunteers have been providing their services for a number of years. "You have to have a willingness to devote to the program," she said. "It requires a strong commitment."

"Many volunteers have been in the program for 10-20 years," Lassiter said. "Some are in their late 80s and early 90s; they are still volunteering."

Lassiter, who has an accounting degree, is also a volunteer. She began assisting about 16 years ago while between jobs. Like many of the others, Lassiter still works while volunteering for the AARP, although a good number are retirees who enjoy sharing their time and expertise.

The volunteers come from all walks of life. Some are teachers, accountants, doctors and engineers, just to name a few. For the first time, volunteers must enroll in a training program that begins in October and lasts until January. The training is three days a week, about 4-5 hours per day. There, they learn tax laws and how to navigate the Internal Revenue Service's software.

For the more seasoned volunteers, a refresher class is given, and all volunteers must be certified as a tax counselor.

Lassiter said that there are programs that seniors don't know they can take advantage of, such as the renters or homeowners tax credits.

One local resident who didn't want to be identified said he had been doing his own taxes his whole working life but now with a sick spouse at home, he hadn't the time.

"I need someone to do it for me," he said.

Appointments are required for the free service, and the necessary information is listed on the AARP's website.

"This program has been very popular," said Cavanaugh.

To find an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide in your community, call 800-AARP-NOW ( 888-227-7669) or go to AARP.org/taxaide.

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