AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free tax preparation assistance program, has been in operation for more than 45 years. It simply wouldn’t exist without the tens of thousands of volunteers who patiently help low- and moderate-income older adults with their tax preparation every year. These volunteers have to know their stuff, and Foundation support makes sure they do. But they also need technological support, and sometimes that requires an extra helping hand.
Recently, Bob Willis, National Technology Committee chairperson and a 16-year veteran of AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, described the vital role that the Microsoft Corporation has played in ensuring that Tax-Aide’s clients get the best, most technologically savvy support:
“I am one of the 35,000 AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers. We use more than 12,000 computers for tax preparations. Some of them are fairly new, but many are donated hand-me-downs from various industries that often require newer operating systems.
“Two years ago we faced the daunting task of trying to acquire funding to upgrade the operating systems on the majority of our computers to Microsoft Windows 7. We had almost 10,000 computers that would become unusable after April of 2014 when Microsoft will discontinue providing security updates for Windows XP.
“In order to keep Tax-Aide up and running, it was imperative that the computers be upgraded. In comes the Microsoft Corporation, with a donation of Windows 7 software of more than $2.75 million. As a Tax-Aide volunteer I was elated; here was this big corporation helping us to continue to do what we do best.
“As the chairperson of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Technology Team, I work closely with Tax-Aide staff and technology volunteer team members to make sure computers are getting upgraded with the new operating system software. Technical volunteers on my committee spent many hours creating scripts and programs in order to securely get the software out to our volunteers and protect the donated license key. No one actually sees the key because it is installed automatically from a website when our image with the operating system is installed.
“We are well aware of the value of the Microsoft grant. Last year, during the 2013 tax season, we prepared income tax returns free of charge for more than 2.5 million people, mostly older Americans with low to moderate incomes. I know I speak for the AARP Tax-Aide volunteers and staff when I say how grateful we are for the software donation from Microsoft. I have personally witnessed what this grant has done for the program as I sit down at an upgraded operating system computer and see the gratitude in taxpayers’ eyes when I tell them that they do not owe taxes or that they will be receiving a refund.”