Lauren Coughlin organizes tax clinics at the Maple Ridge library.

Lauren Coughlin organizes tax clinics at the Maple Ridge library.

Volunteer week: A good return on taxes

Lauren Coughlin organizes tax clinics for those who need help.

Lauren Coughlin always found filing her taxes confusing. So 15 years ago, while living in Ontario, she went with a friend to join the Canadian Volunteer Income Tax Program.

She thought learning how to help others fill out their taxes properly would make doing her own return simpler.

“I always found it intimidating.”

She did her taxes with a pencil and paper then.

“That’s all there was at the start.”

She found helping others rewarding, and returned the next year to volunteer again, and kept doing so.

Coughlin, having just retired, moved to Maple Ridge in 2005, buying a property near Whonnock with he sister.

Maple Ridge didn’t have a tax filing program then for those in need of help – seniors, youth, single mothers, those with low incomes.

She initially assisted with taxes in Langley, but three years after that decided her new city should have its own such service.

She went to the library and seniors centre and asked to put up posters promoting the tax filing service.

Last year, Coughlin and three other volunteers filed just over 100 tax returns, up from the previous year.

She started the walk-in service again last Saturday in the Fraser Room, upstairs at the Maple Ridge library.

“It’s open to anybody.”

She arrived to find a line-up of 30 or so people waiting for help with their taxes.

Coughlin has enlisted the help of nine other volunteers this year, but several couldn’t make it last weekend. She brought her sister along to help get everyone organized.

“She had everyone laughing.”

Her and the others completed 45 returns on Saturday and Monday.

It takes Coughlin 15 to 30 minutes to complete a simple return.

Her and the other volunteers will be at the library every Saturday in April.

“This effort takes up a lot of Lauren’s time,” said Heather Trevleaven, coordinator for the Volunteer Centre Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, “and she’s really dedicated to making sure it all works.”

National Volunteer Week starts Monday. A breakfast is planned to thank local volunteers, such as Coughlin, who helps out at the library, too.

She enjoys helping people, and listening to their stories.

“You ever know what people are going to say.”

Years ago she helped a young man who hadn’t been working long. He talked the entire time she filled out his tax return, asking all sorts of questions. She was a little distracted.

“When I told him, “We’re done,’ he said, ‘Oh, that was easy.’”

Even simpler, Coughlin and the Canadian Volunteer Income Tax Program offer drop-off and pick-up tax services.