KALAHEO — Since Coleen and Brian Kasperek volunteered their time to prepare tax returns 13 years ago, they estimate they have assisted about 4,000 people.
“It feels good to help people that really need help,” said Brian, Westside coordinator with AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. “We’re not CPAs, so we’re not doing complicated tax returns. But for the people who’ve been in the plantation all their lives, that stuff is fairly overwhelming.”
Since 2004, the Kaspereks have been part of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, a volunteer program that assists with preparing tax returns for kupuna and people with low income — for free.
“We don’t really turn people down,” Brian said. “We watch how complicated their return is. Most of us aren’t CPAs. If a young guy comes in with a W-2, it would take us 10 minutes to do his return.”
Last year, about 12,000 volunteers with the AARP program prepared 2 million tax returns in the country. Brian said volunteers on Kauai did about 500 returns in 2016.
“Our client audience is really elderly and people who have no other means,” Coleen said. “They may just have Social Security or a small pension. If they went to H&R Block, they get charges over $100 to do it.”
The Kaspereks are retired engineers who have done their own taxes their entire lives, and wanted to be more active in the community by volunteering.
“We get to know people in the community,” Coleen said. “That was one of the things we wanted to do when we moved here.”
With the help of 13 volunteers, the Kaspereks work out of the Westside in the Kekaha, Kaumakani, Kalaheo and Koloa neighborhood centers as well as the Hanapepe Library.
“A lot of the elderly will come to the neighborhood centers on a regular basis,” Brian said. “That’s why we do the neighborhood centers because people don’t have to find somewhere else to go.”
Most of the people who have their taxes prepared, Coleen said, come in for the $85 food credit the state pays them.
Every year, the Kaspereks look for two basic volunteers: counselors and greeters.
“Counselors are the ones that actually do the taxes for people. You don’t have to be a CPA to do that,” Coleen said. “You just have to be a little bit computer savvy. We do have training sessions.”
Greeters meet with clients and get their paperwork squared away.
“They act as filters,” Brian said. “They look for people with simple tax returns. Sometimes people come in with big pile of stuff. We just don’t have time when we have 25 people show up in the morning.”
Though the AARP Westside program gained four people last year, it also lost the same number. One of the oldest and longest-serving volunteers, 94-year-old Charley Rebb, will not be returning.
But the number of residents needing help doesn’t appear to be declining.
“We get the same people coming back over and over and over for the returns,” Coleen said. “In fact, they’ve been already starting to ask us. We have messages on our answering machine.”
Brian is encouraging more people to volunteer. Training will begin at Immaculate Conception School in Lihue the week of Jan. 23.
From January to the beginning of April, volunteers may expect to commit about 75 hours of their time to the program, Coleen said.
For low-income individuals and kupuna who would like their tax returns prepared, the Kaspereks ask them to bring a Social Security card, picture ID, tax paperwork and last year’s taxes to expedite the process.
“I tell people that I do their taxes, but I don’t do their arithmetic,” Brian said. “They don’t need last year’s taxes, but it speeds it up.”
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide has more than 5,000 locations in neighborhood libraries, malls, banks, community centers and senior centers, according to AARP. There’s no fee and no sales pitch for other services, and AARP membership is not required.
For more information about volunteering or getting your taxes prepared, call Brian at 808-332-5680.