HandsOn Kick-Off

This past Friday, I went to the the kick-off of the HandsOn Central Texas workshop on volunteer management. There was so much good news, so much excitement, so much positivity. And the room was jam-packed. It was a complete sell out. October is proud to have helped out with our tiny contribution, and we hope we can do more in the future.

But back to the good news. First off, many of us heard for the first time that Austin ranks third in the nation for its high rate of volunteerism. Third!

The report, called “Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings” is the first-ever conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service. It ranks America’s 50 largest cities using U.S. Census data from 2006 to 2006 (which apparently draws some skepticism, but… third!) and compares volunteerism rates, the organizations they volunteer through, the main activities, hours per year, and other data.

You’d think the people who made this all happen – volunteer coordinators at every level – would have known about it, and I was surprised by how many of them didn’t. It’s huge cause for celebration and a pat on the back. And I guess it’s the kind of thing that keeps us going on this long, slow path to a magazine about volunteers and for volunteers.

At the kick-off, the woman sitting next to me worked for the IRS. And so you’re thinking… what is the IRS doing here? Well, the IRS runs a Volunteer Return Preparation Program (VRPP) in the Austin area, which in our area is called the Community Tax Center.

Want to hear about an impact a bunch of volunteer tax-preparers can make?

In 2007, the Community Tax Center’s VRPP prepared more than 13,500 tax returns for low-income residents for free. Those tax returns garnered almost $17 million for those families, which means lots of tax-return income we otherwise never would have seen went back into our local economy.

This took 340 Austinites willing to go through hours and hours of training, take a test for certification, and – and here’s the part where you start to believe these people aren’t human – prepare someone else’s taxes for free.

Congratulations and thank you to the 340 Austinites and Central Texans who went through hours of tax codes to pump back $17 million into our little town.

These were volunteers, people. Preparing tax returns. It’s unbelievable to me how deep and wide the level of volunteering in Austin really is. There are untold number of agencies and organizations out there just giving and not asking for anything in return.

Well, these people were asking for something in return. A fat check.

But not for themselves. For working families who probably saw that check as a huge blessing. Think of the feeling those volunteers must have had. After filling out dozens of blank forms, walking people through their W-2s, their child credits, their write-offs, and their FICAs… then to show them that number at the bottom of the 1040… telling them that’s how much they were going to get back.

Don’t you think that, on the drive home, those volunteers were thinking… I helped someone find their own money. And they were pretty excited about it. Wow.

More good news from the HandsOn kick-off later.