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Volunteer Finds Connection, Friendship and More

Barbara Dooley has worked with Tax-Aide — and built relationships — in three different states.

spinner image Barbara Dooley Story Photo

Barbara Dooley has always had a head for numbers. She got that from her father, who trained as an accountant and did the bookkeeping and taxes for his agricultural business.

“When he retired, he started a small tax business to keep himself active,” she says. “It's something I shared with him.”

Barbara, 69, puts her head for numbers to good use as an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer. Tax-Aide provides tax assistance to anyone, free of charge, with a special focus on taxpayers who are over 50 or have low to moderate income.

When her sister showed her an announcement for the program in an AARP member newsletter, Barbara wasted no time signing up. “I didn't know much at first,” she remembers, “but I was hooked.”

In the 17 years since, Barbara has worked with Tax-Aide in three different states: Kansas, Missouri, and Virginia. At the peak of her involvement, she was managing several sites, volunteering five-and-a-half days a week during tax season. When the pandemic hit, she even prepared taxes virtually for two states in the same tax season.

“As a volunteer, I’ve seen very different populations, not just economically but also racially or ethnically diverse,” Barbara explains. In the poorer areas, many clients are grandparents raising grandchildren. Others would have their taxes done and then ask where to find the local food bank. Many don’t speak English.

And everywhere she’s worked, Barbara has seen the financial difficulties facing older women. “If they’re single or widowed, they’re often living on very little,” says Barbara. “If they don’t get rent support or property tax support when they file, they tell us they have to choose between medication and food and paying rent.”

Barbara’s work with Tax-Aide is rewarding on many levels, she says. Not only has she been able to find clients money they didn’t know they were owed — money that often makes a significant difference in their well-being — but she also finds joy in the relationships she builds through the program, both with clients and with her fellow volunteers.

Tax-Aide Volunteer Opportunities

As a Tax-Aide volunteer, you’ll get free training, flexible hours, and ongoing support — and the fulfillment that comes from helping your neighbors.



Many of her clients come back year after year, so she sees them change over time. One woman was a Bosnian refugee who came back each year specifically to work with Barbara, who speaks Serbian. “I had a client that had been starting cancer treatment the year before,” Barbara recalls. “He came in the next year, and we all clapped as he announced, ‘I didn't die!’”

The relationships built aren’t just with clients. Tax-Aide sites make a point to encourage connection among volunteers, organizing social events to make sure people can get to know each other. Barbara built deep friendships with other volunteers. "Four of us at the site in Kansas City started a breakfast club,” she says. “Once a quarter we got together at the same place. We still keep in touch!”

Barbara makes sure to point out another important way her 17 years as a Tax-Aide volunteer have benefited her. “You work with numbers, you memorize things. It's extremely good for cognitive health.”

A tax return, Barbara says, is both private and very revealing. She sees part of her work as a sort of counselor, understanding the trust that’s needed for many to share these personal details. “You can help people with their taxes,” she muses, “but you also have this wonderful opportunity to listen to them, to give them their dignity.”

Learn more about AARP Foundation Tax-Aide and how to become a Tax-Aide Volunteer.

Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope, and about the volunteers who give so much of themselves to help others.

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