Taxing their skills

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Volunteers give their time for free tax preparation

By Lisa King

Did you ever think that tax preparation could be fun?

Five people who have been volunteering their time for years doing free tax preparation at a local company say they actually look forward to tax season.

“I have five very dedicated volunteers; we’re like one big family,” said Yolanda Bradford, owner of HJW Career and Financial Literacy Institute, Inc. in downtown Shelbyville and operated of a federally subsidized service for the elderly and low-income families.

Bradford is able to offer the free service with the help of sponsorship from banking institutions and Metro United way.

Her tax preparation service will begin at 9 a.m. Jan. 26. Both walk-ins and appointments will be accepted. Bradford and her volunteer staff will be providing the free service three days per week.

As in other communities, Shelby has several organizations and companies that provide free tax service for eligible people. Bradford joined that group about five years ago.

Although she has five regular volunteers and three new ones coming onboard, she says she wants to find at least five more.

Bradford said it’s helpful for volunteers to have a CPA background, but it’s not required.

“We give them eight hours of training, and some of it, they can do online,” she said.

What keeps the volunteers coming back?

“It’s very fulfilling when someone comes in and they didn’t know about all of the tax credits, and they leave with from five hundred to two thousand dollars more than what they were going to get,” she said. “And it’s free, and even more, people like being treated with kindness and respect, and everyone has said that all our volunteers are very helpful. We have never had a complaint.”

Bradford said her volunteers not only do taxes, but they give advice on how to use tax returns wisely.

“We introduce them [clients] to banking products and financial literacy classes to help them with money management, and paying off debt, and how to best utilize their refunds,” she said.

How do the volunteers get along with one another?

“We’re like one big family,” Bradford said.


Meet the volunteers


Sydney Lawson

Sydney Lawson, a CPA, is retired from the state department of education where she used to review school system audits.

Lawson has been volunteering for Bradford for five years, and she said that being a tax preparer gives her the opportunity to keep those skills sharpened, and best of all, it gives her the chance to help people.

“I do this mainly because I just like helping people, and this is a good way to do that,” she said.

Lawson said most people are fairly well prepared as far as bringing all the documentation they need to their tax preparation session.

What is the biggest concern she hears from people about their taxes?

“That’s easy,” she said with a chuckle. “They want to know, ‘How quick can I get it?’”


Danise Harris

Danise Harris is a fourth-year volunteer who has a background in accounting.

“I had done taxes in the past,” she said.

Harris said she likes to volunteer because “it’s a great way to help people in our community where I was born and raised to provide them with free tax service.

“Being able to help Yolanda and help the community has really been great. Some people anticipate having to pay, then they find out they’re getting a refund. It makes you feel good, too. And, plus, I am always learning something new.”


Janet Harris

Janet Harris is a 5-year volunteer who has enjoyed learning how to do taxes and helping people with tax preparation.

“It also helps me because I have the experience to do my own taxes,” she said.

Harris said those who are considering volunteering should not be intimidated because they don’t a bookkeeping background.

“Once you learn the system, and how to do it, it’s pretty simple,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to give back to the community.”


Chris Waford

Chris Waford, who is a first vice president at Citizens Union Bank in Shelbyville in charge of mortgages, is in his fourth year as a volunteer.

“I started doing this because it was a good cause, and also, being in the banking industry, we’re encouraged to do outreach to the community,” he said. “Yolanda and I have been involved in other projects over the years, like homeowner classes. I enjoy doing tax preparation very much; it gives me the chance to meet new people. Sometimes it’s stressful, like when we have a lot of people waiting, but it takes teamwork, and all of us work very well together.”

Waford said he remembers one man who exemplifies the reason why he keeps coming back year after year to help with tax preparation.

“I’ll never forget this one guy,” he said. “He was eight-six years old, and he came in to get his taxes done. He had this great smile. When I got done, I had to tell him what I thought was bad news, he owed a couple hundred dollars in taxes. But he just smiled at me and said, ‘That’s OK. It feels good to be able to still be working and making a living at my age.’ He is one of the neatest people I have met. People like him make it all worthwhile.”


Anthony Leachman

Anthony Leachman, the only volunteer who is not a Shelby County resident, said the others call him the “crybaby” of the group, because he is always telling them to cut him some slack about when he can come in, because he lives in Frankfort.

Does he mind their ribbing?

“Not at all,” he said with a grin.

Leachman, a CPA for Fifth Third Bank, is a 4-year volunteer for Bradford.

“I love it just because it’s a chance to interact with people and do something good for them,” he said. “Taxes are pretty scary for some people, so I try to make them as comfortable as I can. When they come in, they look like I’m a doctor and they’re getting ready to get a shot, all tensed up. But it’s done before they know it, and they know they’re getting a refund and they leave with a big smile on their face.”

Want to volunteer?

Contact Yolanda Bradford at 647-3072 or stop in at her office at 330 Main St. in Shelbyville.