John and Helen McKinley of Auburn, center with backs to camera, talk Friday afternoon with tax specialist Janet Sullivan at the rec hall of Sacred Heart Church in Auburn while having their taxes prepared by Sullivan. 

AUBURN — Louise Gervais, from her home office, will field about 2,000 calls during tax season, scheduling months worth of free tax sessions for area residents.

John and Helen McKinley of Auburn talk Friday afternoon with tax specialist Janet Sullivan, center, at the rec hall of Sacred Heart Church in Auburn while having their taxes prepared by Sullivan. 

She is 85 years old.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I feel I’m doing something for other people, and people are so thankful all the time.”

Gervais, along with her daughter, Judy Gervais, plays an integral role in the AARP Tax-Aide program in Lewiston-Auburn. Each year they work with dozens of other volunteers to provide free tax preparation services for low- and middle-income residents.

According to KC Geiger, who has worked on free tax services in the Lewiston area for the past 17 years, many of the volunteers return year after year. He said many have been with him for at least 10 years. Some are former public accountants, others have received certification elsewhere.

Last Friday, about a dozen volunteers were huddled in front of computers in the basement at Sacred Heart Church in Auburn. They were scheduled to handle about 70 customers in 3 1/2 hours, or about 10 customers every 30 minutes.

There is not much time for coffee or food breaks. A bag of chocolates sat slashed open on a table.

Geiger said the program did 1,750 tax returns last year, and is on pace to do “well over 2,000 this year.”

The service is already booked through the middle of March this year, which only leaves a few weeks of wiggle room for potential customers before the filing deadline of April 15. For the volunteers, the long slog to the end of tax season is just heating up.

“It’s fun when it starts and it’s really fun when it ends,” Geiger said Friday. “They’re great volunteers. They don’t get paid anything. They get one volunteer dinner every year at the end of the season. Other than that, they do it because they like helping people.”

Jan Biron, a new volunteer this year, was greeting people as they came in, making sure they had their paperwork in order prior to their scheduled session. She is one of five new volunteers this year, according to Geiger.

“A lot of people don’t even know about it,” Biron said Friday. Despite that, she said, “we get flooded with phone calls.”

Those phone calls, Geiger said, just would not translate into a working schedule without the help of Louise Gervais.

“She’s just so dedicated,” he said.

Judy Gervais, who runs her accounting business out of her mother’s house, also volunteers with Tax-Aide when she can. She helps her mom with the appointment system, and will sometimes receive calls from Geiger with a tax question that stumps even him.

She said her mother’s taking calls and scheduling appointments translates to a full-time job during tax season. Sometimes it can be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., she said.

“I guess we’re a volunteer family here,” Louise Gervais said.

Gervais’ son, David Gervais, is also an area volunteer. Each year he raises money for the Dempsey Challenge. In 2017, he raised $105,000 for the nonprofit.

Gervais said her volunteerism does not end after tax season either. She helps her son with the Dempsey Challenge and finds other ways to stay busy.

“There’s always something to do all summer long,” she said. “I just continue with another project.”

Geiger previously served as an assistant site coordinator for the L-A CA$H Coalition, a separate program that offers free tax preparation in the area. That program, which operates with help from Lewiston city staff, also relies on volunteers to be successful.

According to Dot Perham-Whittier, the Lewiston community relations coordinator who also serves as co-chairman of the program, there are about eight volunteers who either provide individual financial checkups or prepare tax returns for the coalition this year.

As Geiger was speaking to the Sun Journal on Friday, a customer on her way out of Sacred Heart Church walked up to Geiger and said, “Thank you for what you do.”

“And that’s why we’re here,” Geiger said.

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.

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