More than a tax form: Volunteer finds new purpose

Retired Berkeley County educator Bonnie Dill felt a little lost after she completed her career, but a new volunteer opportunity with SC Thrive through a partnership with Trident United Way put her back on a purposeful path.

“When I retired, I sort of lost my purpose in life,” Dill said. “When I was a teacher and principal, I really felt like I was helping people. When I retired, I felt like there was a vacuum or a void. I grew up thinking you needed to help others. This volunteer opportunity helped me feel like I have a purpose in life again.”

Dill put her education background to good work this year teaching clients about the tax filing process and potential deductions. The program is a partnership between Trident United Way and SC Thrive to provide free assistance with filing taxes to qualifying individuals and families.

And for volunteers like Dill, sometimes they get more than they give.

Dill recounts one young woman who had just started working but was still living at home with her parents. The woman was anticipating a nice refund and was crushed when she found out she would be getting less than $50. So, Dill took the time to explain changes in the tax code, walking her through the process. “When I was all done, she asked if I would explain that to her one more time,” Dill said. “I felt good about that.”

Taking that extra time to demystify the tax process is what keeps the program growing and people returning year after year for free tax preparation. This year, the program filed 3,400 state and federal tax returns in the Tri-County area - a 10% increase over the year before, explained John Boyle, a part-time TUW employee and regional trainer for SC Thrive.

The program is available free of charge to those with an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less for individual filers ($95,000 if married filing jointly).

Dill says most people don’t have $250 or more to spend with a tax preparation company, so a service like this is invaluable. In fact, many people teeter dangerously close to a financial disaster. In the state of South Carolina, 17% of the population could not afford an emergency expense of $400, according to federal statistics.

Free tax filing assistance can be the difference between a car payment to get to a job or making the monthly rent. Plus, maximizing tax credits or understanding how best to spend a tax refund is vital to a person’s overall success. Putting money toward the purchase of a car or house can lead to greater self-sufficiency, which gives people freedom to concentrate on their education or health. The trickle-down impact of something as seemingly simple as free tax preparation can truly change an entire community.



Photo credits: Paul Cheney, Paul Cheney Photograpphy