By Kelley Shannon • Ron Craig always did his own income tax returns. So 16 years ago when he saw a newspaper notice about volunteering for the free AARP Foundation tax-preparation service, Craig thought he would enjoy it.
He joined the legion of trained AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers who prepare personal tax returns at no charge. The program is aimed at low- and moderate-income people 50 and older, but no one is turned away because of age.
“It’s very humbling. I see people, I don’t see how they live on what they make,” said Craig, 76, a retired electrical engineer from Conroe. He added that many Tax-Aide clients would not have enough money for food or medicine if they paid for tax preparation. “It’s really nice to be able to help them."
Craig is one of about 2,700 AARP Texas volunteers who help make their communities better places to live. Some prefer to volunteer in programs like Tax-Aide that are only a few months a year. For instance, beginning in February, Craig goes to a library two or three days a week to help Tax-Aide clients until the deadline in April.
Others choose AARP projects that go year-round. Still others prefer less time-consuming programs—perhaps a one-time event like collecting canned goods during a weekend food drive.
Satisfying and fun
For Craig, becoming a Tax-Aide volunteer turned out to be rewarding work. And a lot of fun.
“You’ll find this one of the most satisfying things you’ve done in your life,” he said.
Other AARP volunteers share Craig’s passion. Here are two who have found the work rewarding:
When Allan Wollos of Dallas took an AARP Driver Safety class in 1994 and again in 1998, he noticed there weren’t many other African Americans participating.
So he volunteered to become an instructor in 1999. Wollos gradually took on more responsibility, and now he’s a deputy state coordinator for AARP Driver Safety in Texas. He has reached out to other African Americans to recruit them to the Driver Safety instructor corps.
Wollos coordinates about 150 other volunteers in 60 counties. Last year, more than 20,000 Texans took the four-hour class
He reminds Driver Safety course attendees to avoid rush-hour traffic if possible, know who has the right of way and consider making easier right turns instead of left turns to reach a destination.
“We are trying to teach you how to save your life and other lives,” he said.
Retired from a mortgage company, Wollos, 81, is an associate minister and volunteers with AARP Texas about 25 to 30 hours per week, depending on the season.
Julia Castellano-Hoyt, 72, handled important assignments in her 25 years working for the city of San Antonio, including as the mayor’s top assistant.
After retirement in 1998, the former Women’s Army Corps member jumped into volunteer work with the armed services division of the American Red Cross. She also helped AARP Texas organize a grandparenting conference. In 2001 she attended the AARP Life@50+ member event in Dallas and learned about advocacy.
Speaking for a lot of seniors
“I thought, ‘Gee, this is really where I want to be,’ ” Castellano-Hoyt said. This year marked her third legislative session as a volunteer advocate at the Texas Capitol.
Castellano-Hoyt meets with lawmakers and their top aides and testifies at legislative hearings. She speaks in favor of regulating payday lenders, protecting Medicaid funding for nursing home care and preventing election polling place lists from being removed from newspapers and placed only online.
“I like to think that I’m speaking for a lot of seniors,” she said. “I gain a lot more than I give.”
For information about AARP Texas volunteer opportunities, call 866-227-7443 toll-free or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kelley Shannon is a writer living in Austin