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Volunteers Make Tax Preparation a Family Affair

Sigal Ekhaus and Roy Lazaro blend family time and community service.

Sigal Ekhaus, 54, and Roy Lazaro, 25, are a novelty in AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program: mother-son tax preparation volunteers. Both have been volunteers over 10 years. In a recent interview, they told us what it means to them to help their Arizona community together.

spinner image Tax-Aide Family Story Image
Q: How did you get started with Tax-Aide?

Sigal: I have a friend who is a CPA. She knew I like numbers, so she recommended that I take a tax preparation course. She told me about Tax-Aide and what a great organization it is.

 

 

Roy: (laughing) I needed volunteer hours for high school!

Q: What was the training like? Could someone without an accounting background be successful as a volunteer?

Roy: It's pretty simple. The software does most of it for you if you know how to work it. 

 

During training, volunteers get five or six practice returns that present common tax scenarios. You fill them out and then compare them to make sure everyone got the same outcome.  I studied accounting in college, but lots of people without that background become volunteers, often after we've prepared their taxes. Anyone can do it, it just depends on whether they want to put in the time, since training takes about 40 hours over a few weeks.

 

Sigal: Absolutely. You can always ask questions, and the practice sessions help a lot. If you make mistakes, they tell you why and help you correct them.  

Q: Roy, you’re much younger than the typical Tax-Aide volunteer. Has that affected your experience?

Roy: It’s true; it’s mostly older retirees. Because of the program’s hours of operation, it's hard for younger people to volunteer because of work or school.

 

I started volunteering when I was 14, so I wasn't allowed to work on the tax returns. Instead, I helped check people in, asked them if they had the required paperwork, things like that. It’s a very welcoming environment, though, no matter what age you are.

Q: What kind of interactions have you had with taxpayers? Are there any that stand out?

Sigal: I had an older lady come in who had taken the money out of her 401(k) early to help her son. She didn't know she would have to pay so many taxes on it, and it was heartbreaking to see her reaction. I gave her support and told her, “It happened, but how we can fix it for next year?” It was sad, but at least I could comfort her. 

 

Roy: I see a lot of older people who are paying taxes they aren’t required to pay. Being able to help them understand that they have a little extra to save always feels good.

 

Sigal: Some clients came to my site for many years. I would hear later that they asked to see me specifically, and that made me happy. It’s nice to know they were satisfied and trusted me enough to come back.

Q: How does volunteering benefit you?

Roy: We volunteer so we can give back to the community. If we can find ways to get a hundred extra bucks to people that have low income, it's a big deal for them. Online tax services can be confusing. I can help people face to face and explain, “Hey, you owe this much, but if you do this next year, it'll help you.” Things like that work better in person.

 

Sigal: It’s always good to learn something new, and knowing how to do taxes is a tool for life. And the environment is so much fun. It feels like a family.

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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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.