Aroostook County CA$H held an appreciation dinner at the Sargent Family Community Center in Presque Isle. The event was held to thank the volunteers who made the tax season a little less stressful and a lot more affordable for the people they served. This service was free to households earning $54,000 or less, with the average income being $17,342. The program served more than 800 clients.
The Need to Expand
“At the end of the last season we knew we wanted to expand the program to better meet the needs of the community, but we couldn’t do it with the existing model,” explained Sherry Locke, Executive Director of United Way of Aroostook. “By partnering with The County Federal Credit Union, we received not only financial sponsorship, but also a team of volunteers to coach clients with their financial needs.”
The financial institution saw the program as a good match for their organization in that it aligned with their motto of “people helping people.” Sponsoring and volunteering for a program which promotes financial literacy ties back to the original mission of why credit unions were created.
“The County Federal Credit Union’s philosophy and indeed the credit union industry’s mission of “People helping People” ties in perfectly with the function of Aroostook County CA$H,” explained Dan Bagley, VP of The County Federal Credit Union. “As the major sponsor we were pleased to be able to provide financial support to this worthy program and offer our staff the chance to participate in a “hands on,” meaningful way: assisting program participants with how best to utilize their returns, and increasing their awareness of the resources available to them within the communities we serve. Personally, I’d like to thank our employees for volunteering their time and representing the credit union so well in this capacity. People are very busy, and our staff is no exception. Asking for volunteers from our group is always amazing, because no matter the challenge, our staff seems to always be willing to step up to help. In this case, 18 of our staff gave up portions of their evenings because it was the right thing to do and a great opportunity to positively impact the communities we serve.”
Volunteers are the Key
This year’s program began in November of 2017 with trainings for the volunteers and ended April 13, 2018, when the three County sites closed (Houlton, Fort Kent, and Presque Isle). The program utilized more than 40 volunteers in all positions: schedulers, greeters, IRS certified tax preparers, and opportunity guides. The largest pool of volunteers came from The County Federal Credit Union and Aroostook RSVP.
“The volunteers absolutely make this program possible,” said Athena Hallowell, Program and Volunteer Coordinator at United Way of Aroostook. “Without them, we couldn’t serve the number of clients we did or provide them with information and access to the programs and opportunities available to them. This dedicated team of volunteers devoted more than 1,400 hours serving the people of Aroostook. The level of skill and professionalism is a testament to the training they received by the Site Coordinators. The volunteers’ willingness to help our program be successful is admirable.”
And successful it was. The program grew 51% over last year, filing 807 state and federal returns, bringing over $700,000 back to Aroostook County citizens. Nearly all 807 tax clients spent part of their appointment speaking with an Opportunity Guide learning about local programs and resources. These resources aimed to help them increase their income, reduce their debt, and build their savings. Some resources were to help to meet basic needs.
Sandra Bartley was the Tax Site Coordinator and Tim McMahon the Assistant Site Coordinator for the program. Both oversaw the training of the tax preparers, ensuring they were certified at either the Basic or Advanced Preparer level. They also performed a quality review of every return before it was filed.
“These men and women, most of them retired, really did great work!” said Bartley. “I could depend on them to show up and work hard at every session we had. Together they filed more than 800 returns. One preparer, Dana (Crory), came to every, single, session over the ten weeks we prepared taxes, except for one, which was a bad travel day. During our very first year with this program, the entire program filed just over 150 returns. This year Dana himself completed 183! We can’t put a price on that kind of dedication.”
The evening included dinner and awards presentations.