Synergy volunteers help residents ease the tax burden
Properly doing taxes is about more than the refund you receive or what is owed to the government.
For many in lower income categories, it can have huge ramifications. Whether they qualify for the Canada child benefit, for instance, GST/HST credit or disability payments, can all be traced back to having a properly filled out tax return. However, the reality is many people don’t have the resources to know how to complete that task properly or the money to pay someone to help them. But there is an option out there.
Lloydminster Senior Citizens Society has been assisting low-income earners file their tax returns for years. This year, Synergy Credit Union Chartered Professional Accountants Susan Davidson and Michael Davison have stepped up to partner, help grow the program and assist more people in need.
The group, which also includes business students from Lakeland College gaining valuable experience to jumpstart their careers, will host clinics throughout the next month. Their aim is to help about 500 people.
“A friend of mine reached out to me because someone had approached him and said, ‘I think there is a need here and I’m not sure if there is anything going on in the community,’” said Michael. “Knowing I’m pretty passionate about taxes and community service, he reached out to me to see if there was any interest, if I could coordinate something - and I started making phone calls. First, I had to figure out which program was right for us because there are a lot of free tax programs out there. So I had to find the one that worked with Lloydminster’s needs and the resources we could access in terms of volunteers because we want to make sure it is a success.”
After determining the Canadian Revenue Agency was the best fit, Michael asked its representatives if there was anyone in Lloydminster they could partner with. The CRA suggested Kay Hauer, who had been organizing volunteer tax filing for more than 15 years as part of the Lloydminster Senior Citizens Society.
“I cold-called Kay and I said, ‘I think I have some access to accountants and I have a couple ideas for a little bit bigger of a program, how would you feel about us coming together as a group and getting this done?’” said Michael. “She was very enthusiastic. I reached out to Lakeland College and said, ‘I have a community organization in town, I have some accountants behind me, I want to see if there is any interest in students coming and doing this. We would do it in such a way where it’s a fantastic learning experience for them and a great service to the community.’”
Lakeland got on board and the group began to plan the logistics of helping reach as many people as possible.
Being an accountant, Susan said it’s something she feels passionately about, and being able to share her skills and mentor is something she is excited to do.
“You feel a lot of obligation to use those skills to give back. This aligns well with where we work as giving back is so important to us. We’re using our skills as professional accountants to help the community,” Susan said. “I think there is a need. We have heard from CRA that for a community this size, there weren’t many tax returns prepared by volunteers. And I think with the state of the economy there are more people in need this year.”
The two will also come full circle in a way. Both are alumni of Lakeland College and are excited about the opportunity to mentor the next generation of young people interested in joining their field.
“It’s exciting for me to work with Lakeland again,” said Susan. “Many of the students don’t have any experience in the tax return world, so for a lot them it’s an opportunity to get some real hands-on work and also encourages them to do some volunteering. And they’re not alone. Their mentors are right there with them. It’s a great opportunity for the students and volunteering is something many employers will look for on their resume as well.
“It’s something I did, we went to just one seniors’ centre and prepared some tax returns when I was a student, so this is on a much bigger scale.”
Synergy Credit Union is proud to host three of the clinics at The Synergy Centre (4908 42 Street) on April 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and April 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Synergy is so supportive,” said Davidson. “The Synergy Centre is a good central location and we appreciate the opportunity to use in for our tax clinics.”
There will also be a clinic at Lakeland College (Lloydminster Campus) on April 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.