Here’s a riddle: How does the Boston Tax Help Coalition prepare more than 12,000 tax returns – for free – each year?

The short answer is: Volunteers. Lots of them.

And this tax season, there’s a new volunteer coordinator to make that magic happen. Sayyida Jean-Charles is recruiting hundreds of volunteers, organizing their training, and dispatching them to 28 sites throughout the Boston area to help residents claim the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and refunds they are due.

“It’s a new world for me,” she said, laughing. “I wasn’t a finance or accounting major in college.”

In fact, Jean-Charles graduated from UMass-Dartmouth with a sociology degree, and brought her passion for people to the nonprofit world. She worked first as a counselor at Communities for People, which provides group homes for youth in DCF custody, and then went on to coordinate teen programming at Brookview House, an emergency shelter for women and children.

As far as Jean-Charles is concerned, preparing someone’s taxes – dry as that might seem – is just as intimate and valuable a service.

“It’s not just inputting data,” she said. “Really, you are building a relationship with people to make them feel they can come back. You’re building trust.”

Volunteers are also building the finances of low- and moderate-income residents in a tangible way. Last year, the Coalition helped taxpayers claim $7.2 million in EITC and secure $24 million in refunds. Those results require time and commitment from the volunteers, who must complete a two-day training and dedicate 4 hours per week to tax preparation throughout the tax season.

Volunteer tax preparers train for their roles.

When she meets potential volunteers, Jean-Charles does her best to convey the reality of the job: “As long as you know basic math and can use a computer, you’re golden. But you need to have that commitment. You’re with people in the community, dealing with their information – you’ve got to do the job correctly. This is a serious volunteer job.”

Jean-Charles doesn’t just preach, though. She put her money where her mouth is by choosing to become a Boston Tax Help Coalition volunteer herself. She is completing the training and plans to prepare taxes at DotHouse Health, near her home in Dorchester.

As a born-and-raised Boston resident, Jean-Charles can relate to many of the Coalition’s clients. But the connection between volunteer and taxpayer is simpler even than that.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “we’re all trying to improve our finances.”

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