Ca$h Coalition marks record tax prep season

Volunteer tax preparers for the Aroostook Ca$h Coalition helped County residents file more than 800 tax returns this year. The tax preparation team included, from left, front row, Jerry Joles, Priscilla Phillips, site coordinator Sandra Bartley and Nita Theriault. Back row, Penny McHatten, Gordon Buzza, Dana Crory and Ashlee Ellingwood. (Courtesy of United Way of Aroostook)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook CA$H Coalition, led by United Way of Aroostook and supported by more than 14 non- and for-profit partners, recently held an appreciation dinner at the Sargent Family Community Center in Presque Isle to thank the more than 40 volunteers who made the recent tax filing season a little less stressful and a lot more cost-effective for more than 800 Aroostook County citizens.

The service was free to households earning $54,000 or less, with the average income being $17,342.

“At the end of the 2016 tax 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, United Way executive director. “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,” and sponsoring and volunteering for a program which promotes financial literacy ties back to the original mission of why credit unions were created.

“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 and weekends, because it was the right thing to do and a great opportunity to impact positively the communities we serve,” said Dan Bagley, executive vice president of The County Federal Credit Union.

The Aroostook Ca$h Coalition celebrated this season’s tax volunteers during a recognition luncheon in Presque Isle recently. Greeters/volunteer guides included, from left, Marilee Morgan, Glady Garone, Priscilla Jalbert, Barbara Farr, Athena Hallowell and Sue Brown. (Courtesy of United Way of Aroostook)

This year’s program began in November 2017 with trainings for the volunteers, and ended April 13 when the three County sites closed. The program utilized volunteer schedulers, greeters, IRS certified tax preparers and opportunity guides. The largest pool of volunteers came from The County Federal Credit Union and Aroostook Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

“The volunteers absolutely make this program possible,” said Athena Hallowell, program and volunteer coordinator at United Way of Aroostook. “This dedicated team devoted more than 1,400 hours serving the people of Aroostook. I am impressed by their level of skill and professionalism as well as their willingness to help our program be so successful.”

And successful it was. The program grew 51 percent over last year, filing 807 state and federal returns, bringing over $700,000 back to Aroostook County citizens. Of the 807 clients served, 156 were veterans. Nearly all 807 tax clients spent part of their appointments speaking with an opportunity guide, learning about local programs and resources which could help them increase their income, reduce their debt, build their savings or help to meet their 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 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.

Sandra and Tim are both grateful for the team they worked with.

“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. Dana (Crory) came to every, single, session over the ten weeks we prepared taxes, except for one. During our very first year, the program filed just over 150 returns. This year Dana himself completed 183. We can’t put a price on that kind of dedication.”

Those attending the Appreciation Dinner enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and visiting before dinner, which was followed by the presentation of awards and certificates.

For more information or to volunteer, contact United Way of Aroostook at (207) 764-5197.

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