While the top floor of the Darien Library is typically pretty quiet in the middle of the day, on a recent Friday afternoon, it was rather lively.
Every few minutes, people were walking in and out of the corner conference room on the top floor. They were getting their tax returns filed through AARP’s Tax Preparation and Assistance program.
The program is free and open to anyone, of any age, income level, or town. “There are no restrictions, which is very unique for a tax program,” said Mallory Arents, the library’s associate director of programs and services.
It’s an annual program that the Darien Library has hosted since the 1990s and conducted in collaboration with AARP.
The program is open through April 14. It operates by appointment or walk-in. Hours are: Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1:30 pm; and Mondays, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Information on what documents to bring to the program, such as tax forms, social security and photo identification, and health insurance information, can be found on the Darien Library website. The AARP Foundation provides funding for supplies, including papers, envelopes, forms and printer cartridges, computers and printers.
The team of tax aides consists of six to seven volunteers who are all trained as IRS-certified tax preparers through AARP.
“Usually, the appointments are for a half-hour block,” Arents said. “The preparer files your taxes for you and asks you questions.”
A lot of au pairs participate in the tax program, according to Arents.
“They are here for a short period of time. They are generally young women in their 20s. It’s their first time being away from home and their first time filing taxes in the U.S.,” she said. “It can a very stressful time, and seeing the care that the preparers give to these young adults is like nothing I’ve seen here.”
“We are seeing a very diverse audience at our appointments, a range of income levels and family situations,” Arents added. “It’s reflective of who we see in the library.”
Darien resident Mike Klehm, who manages the program for the library, is one of the volunteer certified tax preparers.
Tax preparers have to pass three tests every year to be re-certified, according to Klehm, who has been a tax preparer for six years.
They get certified at the Norwalk Public Library.
“We are given training material provided by the IRS,” Klehm said.
Arents recalled many instances over the years when people said they were very relieved that they had used the program.
“There was a patron a few years ago who was a graduate school student,” Arents said. “She was a freelance journalist and was concerned leading up to tax time that she had a lot of finances and felt anxiety. She left the appointment in happy tears because she was offered a refund instead of what she would have owed.”
“That is one story of hundreds,” Arents added.
Many people remember their experience from the past and request the same tax preparer again.
“They come in asking for a particular tax preparer because they have had that person the year before,” Klehm said. “If that preparer isn’t available, the person may wait for them if they want.”
The average tax return takes 22 minutes but there is a wide range, according to Klehm.
He recently spent a total of two hours with someone over the course of two days.
“He had a lot of brokerage statements,” Klehm said.
To date, the AARP tax aides have processed more than 600 filings since the program began in February. Last year, in total, they processed 888.
There are many aspects of the program that make it appealing, according to Klehm.
“It’s free and the taxes are prepared by certified tax preparers that do dozens and dozens of returns every year so they had a lot of practice dealing with different situations,” he said.
He added that the volunteers find their experience “fun” and “enjoy giving back to the community.”
“It’s very gratifying. They are so appreciative of what we do,” added Klehm, who is also a volunteer with SCORE, a nonprofit organization that provides free business mentoring services.
“You get a chance to help people with something that can be somewhat intimidating,” Klehm said. “People can come to somebody who has a lot of experience in the area who can give them good advice.”
“We see our role at the library as making it as happy a place as we can,” Arents said.
For more information, visit darienlibrary.org or call 203-655-1234.