Senior volunteers help peers files taxes at no charge

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Senior volunteers help peers files taxes at no charge

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, February 13, 2012   |  555 Words  |  

In 36 years at AT&T, Doug Waldrop did his best to avoid using math.

"I didn't fool with numbers," he said with a smile, "tried to work only on the technical side of the business."

But since relocating to Beaufort County from the Upstate town of Easley about 15 years ago, Waldrop, 78, has come to embrace math as a volunteer for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, which provides area residents with free assistance on their annual returns.

Waldrop was on hand Tuesday at the program's first meeting of the tax season at the Hilton Head Island library, where several people waited, requisite documentation in hand, for the doors to open at 1 p.m.

The free program is open to everyone -- one young woman in line said it was her first time filing taxes -- but it predominantly serves and is staffed by local seniors.

The volunteers receive rigorous training, according to George Friedman, who oversees their tutelage as the program's district coordinator.

"The work they do is as good, probably even better, than some of the private tax companies out there," he said. "Although some of those that sign up aren't aware of how much work they have to do before they can even get started."

Friedman said counselors must pass between three and five tests to earn IRS approval to volunteer. They must pass additional tests each year to maintain that certification.

Their training is tailored to best suit seniors' needs. Many seniors, he said, fail to properly file their prescription medicine receipts, and others don't know to count grown children who move back in with them as dependents.

The volunteers also are trained to relieve the anxiety and apprehension of those they counsel.

"Look, the IRS knows that it's almost always businesses who cheat on their taxes and businesses that end up in court," Friedman said. "We encourage (volunteers) to change the perspective of the people they work with and tell them that the government's not out to get them."

The approach worked with Dick Jones, 79, who left Tuesday with both a completed return in his hand and a renewed appreciation for the program.

"Dealing with the IRS can give you fear," he said. "But the people here put you at ease and let you relax. It's the best service on the island."

It wasn't entirely smooth inside the library's meeting room, where about 15 people waited patiently on folding chairs to be attended to by one of the six volunteers at different tables.

The printer was unusually temperamental, and the volunteers often needed to raise their voices to be heard above the din of paintings being hung for an art contest in the adjacent hallway.

But Waldrop was unperturbed.

"You have to give something back to the community you live in," he said. "I like to volunteer at the Heritage and at polling stations each year. But I certainly enjoy doing this the most."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide