Faces of Success: Marian Ott
Tax preparation can feel like rocket science. Even German physicist Albert Einstein is believed to have said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax.” Marian Ott has seen the looks of confusion and desperation on the faces of some of the clients she’s helped through United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program over the past 10 years.
“There are people who come into our site trembling because they are so scared about what they are going to find out,” said Ott. “Perhaps they are afraid that I am going to judge them because they don’t have all the information they need. Of course that’s not true.”
Ott – a United Way Tocqueville Society, Alpha Chapter member and IRS-certified volunteer – has an engineering background and enjoys working with numbers. She’s one of the many VITA volunteers who has prepared free returns for individuals and families earning less than $66,000 annually. Ott admits the process of sifting through tax laws can become a jumbled mess. The goal of all VITA volunteers is to help simplify the filing process.
“There are ways for us to get information for clients if they don’t have it,” said Ott.
She’s built several friendships through her VITA volunteer opportunities. Ott’s most grateful when her work transforms a client’s life in ways they never imagined.
“I remember this elderly couple – a husband and wife ¬- close to 90,” said Ott. “I’ve done their taxes for several years. When they came in last year, I could see tears in her eyes. He was flustered and upset and could barely tell me the story. Apparently, they had all of their tax documents assembled and they got misplaced. It felt like the end of the world to them; they were so upset.”
Ott reassured the couple that she would be able to resolve their nightmare tax season scenario.
“It was rewarding to be able to tell them that this was not a problem. I told them, ‘We will file an extension and we will also file another form that will help you get the information we need to complete your return.’”
The couple came back to the VITA site a few months later, completed their filing process and couldn’t believe their result.
“They received a refund and I was so glad to be able to help them,” she said. “I didn’t grow up in Nashville and my dad is somewhere else. I hope this is my way of paying it forward and perhaps people will be kind to him.”
The kindness and determination of VITA volunteers like Ott allowed 15,000 Middle Tennessee families to receive more than $24 million in tax refunds and credits last year. Research indicates there’s another $40 million in refunds and credits available to qualified clients in Davidson County alone. There’s also a growing need for VITA volunteers.
“I think a good volunteer experience is a situation where something needs to get done and your work provides a clear benefit to the client,” said Ott. “If you are not comfortable preparing tax returns, there are other roles that can help you get you started. We need greeters and people who can sort through documents and make sure clients have everything they need to help us file their taxes.”
United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has tax preparation down to just about an exact science. The looks of confusion and despair on the faces of past clients are now replaced with appearances of clarity and optimism. Tax preparation feels like rocket science but it’s not, thanks to VITA volunteers like Marian Ott.