Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Gwendolyn Johnson… a step above the rest

I volunteer to prepare tax returns every year for the elderly under the VITA/TCE program at Leeward Community College. VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and TCE stands for Tax Counseling for the Elderly.
One volunteer in particular, stands out among the rest of us. Gwendolyn Johnson has been volunteering ever since attending and graduating from Leeward with a degree in accounting.
Always smiling
Every Saturday morning, she is one of the first ones there starting up the computers or getting others to do so, making sure the signs are up that direct people to the proper room where the tax preparation is done, or making sure that all the forms for the volunteers and the clients are organized and ready to go.

It's no secret that I'm not the brightest bulb among the volunteers.  I always try to get a station close to Gwen so that I can ask her questions when I’m stuck. Tax laws and rules are so complicated that we need people like Gwen to consult with who know most of the rules.

With so many tax credits like Earned income Tax credits, dependent care credits, child care tax credits, education credits and low income rental credits, the folks coming to get their returns done know exactly how much they'll be getting back. If a preparer is off by a few dollars, they let him/her know.
Volunteers collaborating on tax matters
As the morning rush eases up and there is a lull in the tax preparation activities, she goes into the back room to help our “chef”, Victor Punua prepare food for the volunteers. One of the benefits that the volunteers at Leeward look forward to is the lunch that Victor prepares.
Gwen helping chef Victor prepare lunch
I once finished early and went back to see if I could help Victor and all he asked me to do was to go back and see if or when Gwen would be available. Har!
Of course, after everyone is fed, she is busy cleaning up and putting away the materials used in the preparation service.

It all began when her daughter and son graduated from high school and entered college. They both encouraged her to go back to school and 30 years after she herself graduated from high school, she was accepted at Leeward Community College. It was an exciting time for her because after raising her two children, she finally was able to do things for herself.

While taking a History course, she was having difficulty completing and comprehending class assignments. A counselor had her tested and they found that she suffered from dyslexia. This explained why Gwen always had difficulty reading and comprehending things throughout her life.

After further testing, they found that math and logic was what Gwen should be doing and she immediately changed her major to accounting. Her life was forever changed. Gwen took a class from Professor Roy Kamida who gave his students a choice of submitting two written projects or volunteer for five Saturdays under the VITA program. She chose the VITA program.

Gwen graduated in 2009 and continues to volunteer in the VITA program. This is her fifth year as a volunteer.  In fact, she brings much vitality to the program and Professor Kamida would have a difficult time without her. We all would.
A happy day for Gwen with her two children
Volunteers like Gwen are hard to find. Most people will do what is required. Gwen looks for things that need to get done and quietly does them.

This program at Leeward has one more month to run. Gwen is there every Saturday until the end of March from 9 AM to 12 noon. The service is also offered every Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 5:30. Be sure to stop by to say hello.