AARP free tax help continues through April 15
By ANDREA GALABINSKI
In North Fort Myers, the volunteers will help over 1,600 people file their tax returns, and nationally assist over 2 million individuals.
The volunteers are part of the AARP Tax-Aide program, which is in full-swing and will continue through April 15.
“Nationwide we have over 7,000 sites and will do over 2 million returns,” organizer Gordon Foster said. “We have 32,000 volunteers nationally and we’re always looking for more.”
Volunteers gather locally five days a week — Mondays and Wednesdays at the North Fort Myers Community Park Center; and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at the North Fort Myers Library.
Foster has been a volunteer for the last eight years.
“A friend of mine was doing this and I started, and now I’m the district coordinator for the area,” he said. “I have North Fort Myers, some of the Fort Myers area and Lehigh Acres. We’ll do about 1,000 returns at the library and about 600 at this center and about 3,000 returns in my area. I have 70 local volunteers right now.”
The volunteers aren’t just accountants. Susan Campbell of North Fort Myers is an elementary teacher who was recently at the center.
“All of the volunteers have to take a test each year, whether it is their first year or their 25th year,” Foster said. “I do have people who have been doing this for 25 years.”
He said AARP works with the IRS to offer the free program, and they help a wide range of individuals, not only seniors.
“We work with low to middle-income people, too, they don’t have to be an AARP member,” said Foster. “But we do give preference to those over 60.”
“We’re primarily in libraries and centers like this one,” he said. “We are looking for more facilities.”
This is the second year the program has been in North Park’s community center.
“The biggest response we get is that when people come in, they say they never knew this center existed. Some people didn’t even know the park existed,” said park Senior Recreation Specialist Christine Susterich.
It’s been a great venture for park staff as well.
“When Gordon first approached us last year to do this, use the center to take over the overflow from the library, he just overwhelmed us with his great personality. We enjoy him,” she said.
She said they also like all of the volunteers.
“Every single one one of them are friendly and positive volunteers.”
Those seeking help are also nice area individuals, she said.
“Even though fellow Recreation Specialist Libby Olive and I have to conduct our center business, it is a very quiet atmosphere and we can continue our work without interruption,” she said.
Susterich said the center plans to host the program again next year.
“We’re looking forward to working with them next year but may have to redirect parking to the rear parking lot,” she said. “That’s the only problem we have with the circular driveway out front.
Appointments are required and must be made by signing up in person at the North Fort Myers Library.
“We work in one-half hour time slots,” said Foster.
Response to the program has been extremely favorable.
“We take a survey every few years to make sure they are satisfied,” he said. “We’re at about 99 percent with our clients; that’s great satisfaction.”
Foster can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.