There is no common profile for Boston EITC Campaign volunteers, bar one universal trait: the ability to offer a free service to people who need it.
Cindy Dantas, a career counsellor at Tufts’ Fletcher School of International Relations, initially visited the Roxbury Resource Center to volunteer
her expertise in job placement. Conflicts with her work schedule prevented her from counselling, but after hearing a pitch for the free tax site the
Center operated after-hours, she committed to prepare the tax returns of local residents three days a week. “I didn’t think it was for me,” she recalled
feeling after first learning of the Campaign from Alan Gentle, the center’s director. Insecure about her math skills, she was nevertheless attracted to the
Campaign’s asset-building mission and is currently in her third year as an EITC volunteer tax preparer.
“It’s not so much about being a number-cruncher,” she now admits. “The computer does most of the work.” What attracts Ms. Dantas to the Campaign each
tax season, more than the ease of the tax software, is her desire to work with clients. She remembers one man, who was so appreciative of her service
after being informed of his refund amount that he invited her to accompany him to the Bahamas. Declining, but amused by the proposition, Ms. Dantas was
satisfied enough with being able to facilitate the tax refund. “Taxpayers may not know how to maximize their return if they managed their own taxes.
It’s nice to help them take advantage of a free service.”
The Campaign attracts both volunteers actively seeking opportunities and those who consider themselves not the volunteering type. Barbara Gaffin,
an editor of a Jewish social action website, remembers preparing Halloween kits for hospital patients as a child, but says she was “never
a big fan of volunteering.” She prefers to effect social change through her professional work, and in 1981, promoted new EITC legislation while working
for the Economic Justice arm of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston.
What differentiates volunteering as an EITC tax preparer from previous stints, Ms. Gaffin confesses, is that “it doesn’t feel patronizing. I like helping
people who help themselves, getting working people what they deserve.” Ms. Gaffin’s teenage son “E.G.” Gaffin-Cahn, a junior at Newton South High School,
also prepares taxes twice a week and similarly views volunteering as atypical community service. “It’s not feeding people or building things,” he explains.
“Each time is unique.”
Pinpointing the start of their community service histories is easy for some volunteers – like Esther Simmons, who immediately recalled co-captaining an Easter
Seals 24-Hour Relay team in 1988 – while others have almost no experience. Architect and second-year tax preparer David Huang remembers only the occasional
activity with his childhood church and was influenced by his wife Wendy, a former member of national service programs AmeriCorps and Teach for America, when
they joined the Campaign in 2005. After serving several taxpayers, he enjoyed seeing the tangible results of his work and discovered an unexpected love of
tax code minutiae, as well as a another benefit: “I learned how to do my own taxes better as a result of seeing others’.”
Although the Campaign operates outreach and asset-building initiatives throughout the year, its seasonal nature is a significant draw for many with busy
schedules. Craig Chapman, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School, emphasizes the relative ease of making a weekly commitment because “it’s only for
three months [mid-January to mid-April] and with a definite end date.” Listing two more benefits, fourth-year tax preparer Faith Clements mentions that
starting each new tax season enables her to work with people she otherwise would not meet, as well as repeat a phrase to taxpayers that never gets old:
“you earned that, it’s not a gift.”
Volunteers were honored at the 2006 Annual Volunteer Reception in the Ancient and Honorable Armory at Faneuil Hall on June 19th.