YAKIMA, Wash. — In 20 years, Bill Stevens went from a newbie when it came to filing taxes electronically to an expert and key figure in the volunteer community in Yakima County. His mission? Helping the neediest individuals get the most from their tax returns.
But now, after two decades helping others, Stevens, 80, will deal with just his own taxes. The Air Force veteran and former Boeing employee will “retire” from his position as chairman of the local branch of a volunteer service that has helped return, over 20 years, more than $20 million to low- and middle-income Yakima County families, individuals and seniors.
“It certainly is a gratifying thing what our people do in the sense that they do help people,” said Stevens. “It’s hard enough to do your own taxes, but then you start doing taxes all day long for other people.”
Stevens retired from a management position with Boeing in the early 1990s. At about the same time, he and his wife moved to Yakima, her hometown. Wishing to remain active, he looked for volunteer work.
Two things caught his eye: an opportunity to learn electronic tax filing, and a tax preparation volunteer position with the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
His role with the local branch grew even as the responsibilities of the program shifted from the IRS to AARP, ultimately becoming chairman.
The Yakima County Asset Building Coalition, in conjunction with AARP, began administering the tax-preparation service in 2009, said chairman Juan Aguilar. More than 30 partners from the area lend support to the coalition.
Tax sites are available in Yakima, Union Gap, Selah, Toppenish, Zillah, Ellensburg and Goldendale. More than 60 volunteers run the various locations.
Despite the training required for volunteers and the tedious nature of tax filing, Stevens said his “attitude has always been, and I’ve always told our people, ‘Let’s have fun while we’re doing this, but let’s do it right.’”
Through grants and financial assistance from the coalition, Stevens and his group had the resources to provide broad tax preparation help for filers, a fact that he said was “super helpful.” Aguilar said that during the last several years, the tax sites have returned about $1.5 million annually to filers.
Stevens’ work did not go unnoticed. Aguilar and the coalition honored him at their monthly meeting last Thursday at Catholic Family & Child Services.
“He was steadfast, he never gave up, he put in long hours for many, many years,” Aguilar said, addressing the coalition. “I don’t know if there’s enough words to thank Bill for all the great work he’s done for us.”
Stevens will now have time to golf more frequently. He also joked about another thing to do in his free time: “I just want to do (my own taxes) now.”