Janelle Riedl is deeply integrated into her community of Prescott, Arizona, where she’s lived for 25 years. “My husband says we can’t go anywhere without talking to 15 people,” she admits, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Janelle has been a volunteer tax preparer with AARP Foundation Tax-Aide for 39 tax seasons in total — more than enough time to get to know the taxpayers who come to her for help. “You hear about the birth of all the kids, and you hear about the death of a spouse, and the loss of a child. When you see these people year after year after year, you get to know them.”
Janelle worked at the IRS for a time while living in New Orleans. That’s where she learned about Tax-Aide, a program that provides tax preparation help to anyone, free of charge, with a special focus on taxpayers who are over 50 and have low to moderate income. She’s currently the District Coordinator for District 3 in Prescott, managing 62 volunteers, many of whom have participated in the program for decades. Together, they prepare about 5,000 returns a year — a number that actually increased in 2021 despite coronavirus restrictions.
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Her team works out of a suite in a local mall, the space donated as an in-kind exchange for the foot traffic the program brings into the stores. Internet and phone service, and even tax preparation and training software, are all donated by the community. In the early days of the pandemic, after an initial shutdown, Janelle was able to reopen the site safely thanks to community donations of PPE products, easy-to-clean furnishings and, she says, “enough hand sanitizer to fill a bathtub.”
A Community Partnership
Although taxes are the program’s main focus, Janelle has found a way to expand and streamline community services, allowing them to reach as many people as possible.
“We have a partnership going in our community,” she says. “Our program works with the volunteer program at the local hospital, and we give out the magnetic medical records that you put on your refrigerator. They provide them to us, and then we provide them to the community.” A local organization, Real Hope, brings food boxes to the Tax-Aide site and distributes them to food-insecure community members who are there to get help with their taxes.