DARIEN — What do scientists, bankers and a former UN Ambassador know about taxes? A lot, apparently.
Thanks to IRS certification, AARP volunteers trained in taxes are available to the public at the Darien Library now through mid-April to help with this pesky, yet inevitable part of life.
“Taxes are complicated,” said area volunteer coordinator Mark Spivack. “They’re beyond the ability of many — probably the majority of people — to handle themselves. We have the knowledge, the software and the people to do it.”
At the Darien Library, certified AARP volunteers are available Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The service is free and available to anyone, both through walk-in or appointment.
On a recent Friday, at least 25 people showed up for appointments and it was only 12:30 p.m. According to volunteer Mike Klehm, the program sees an average of 30 to 45 people a day, adding up to hundreds of people from the time it starts in February to its April 14 end date.
“We see all ages here,” Klehm said. “I think the draw is taxes are something people do once a year. (Here,) they get a chance to work with a person who does hundreds of returns a year.”
The program has been available at the Darien Library for about five years now. Library employees help set up appointments for interested parties and even get their taxes done themselves. The building also offers secure Wi-fi to do electronic filings.
“They’re TurboTax with heart,” said Darien Library’s head of adult programming, Mallory Arents. “They genuinely care about people in a way a machine isn’t going to.”
Arents said some people even return to request appointments with the same volunteer who helped them the year before due to their helpfulness. There are about five to six volunteers doing taxes on any given day the program runs. All volunteers go through yearly, rigorous training to get certified, including taking several classes and passing an exam addressing hypothetical tax scenarios.
Spivack said most of the volunteers are retirees and about one third have a background in finance. He trains and coordinates volunteers from AARP and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which offers similar free tax preparation. The Darien Library program mostly has volunteers from AARP, which has about 25,000 tax-preparing sites nationwide with 30,000 volunteers who serve approximately 1.5 million taxpayers.
“Almost everybody does it because they feel they have an obligation to their community,” Spivack said. “You’re not just doing taxes. When someone comes in, they’re unveiling their entire life. You become a social worker, a divorce lawyer.”
The average return takes about 20 minutes to complete, depending on the person. Spivack says he recommends people come with all their tax-related documents ready. The service is free and open to people of all ages and income level.
Craig and Carol Dawn Bell, of Rowayton, got their taxes done Feb. 23 and said they were especially grateful for the service after two members of their family lost their jobs this year.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Carol Dawn said. “We go here and don’t have to pay.”