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Free AARP tax prep assistance available at CAL

Program offered through April 11.

Tax prep volunteers include Linda Koning (from left), Betty McAllister, Shirley Olson-Kuehl, Art Frame and Lee McAllister.
Tax prep volunteers include Linda Koning (from left), Betty McAllister, Shirley Olson-Kuehl, Art Frame and Lee McAllister.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Tax preparation can be — well, taxing. And daunting, if one lacks the proper tools and knowledge base.

Count on Linda Koning and her capable team of volunteers to smooth out the wrinkles, at least if your tax needs are simple and straightforward.

“Taxes can be intimidating for a lot of people,” said Koning, a local volunteer since 2013 with the AARP Foundation’s tax preparation assistance program; she’s been the area coordinator for the past four years.

“We can help with some of those worries.”

First, the facts: Koning and four experienced volunteers are now taking appointments to provide tax preparation assistance from Feb. 7 through April 11.

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Appointments are primarily available on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; call Koning at (507) 295-2330 to set a date and time for dropping off documents/paperwork at the Center for Active Living, 211 11th St., Worthington. Walk-ins will not be accepted in 2022 so appointments are necessary.

Figuring for life

A native and current resident of Round Lake, the 72-year-old Koning logged 22 years as a social services financial worker, having been employed in Sherburne and Nobles counties during the course of her career.

After retiring in 2012, her keen mind and empathetic spirit would not allow her to simply shift to autopilot and stop contributing.

“I said to myself, ‘You can’t just sit and watch TV and be on the computer,’” said Koning.

Tax prep volunteers study up on tax code (from Left) Art Frame, Shirley Olson-Kuehl, Betty McAllister, Linda Koning, Lee McAllister.
Tax prep volunteers study up on tax code prior to the start of the tax season. Volunteers include Art Frame (from .eft) , Shirley Olson-Kuehl, Betty McAllister, Linda Koning and Lee McAllister.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

With experience in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistants (VITA) program already in hand, Koning’s ears tingled when she heard a call for volunteer tax preparers.

“I used to do that, so I got ahold of somebody and started out as the client facilitator,” she said. “For two seasons, I helped people fill out the two-page form and made sure they had all the necessary paperwork with them.”

Koning laughs when she lists the various places the complimentary tax service has been located: the basement of a local bank and West Learning Center, to name two past locations.

“It was kind of nice when we were at West because with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative there, we could get help with interpreting when we needed it,” she said.

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Now situated in the lower level of the Center for Active Living, Koning and her competent team (Worthington residents Shirley Olson, Lee McAllister, Betty McAllister and Art Frame) have brushed up on their skills to get ready for this year’s round of tax work.

“This requires 40 hours of training annually,” said Koning, mentioning their services are sponsored by the AARP Foundation. “Our location at the CAL works out pretty good because we have a lot of room.”

As the local coordinator, Koning is responsible for ordering the necessary forms, setting up the area, corralling the technology equipment, taking appointments and coordinating with the other volunteers.

In a “normal” year, Koning says they help 250 people prepare and file their taxes, but due to the pandemic, the service was not offered in 2021.

The 2022 operation will look a little different, with no drop-ins accepted. Clients will need to leave their paperwork and contact information (in case of questions) and return at a later time to collect the finished product.

“We do simple returns,” said Koning.

“In the 10 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve only itemized for four or five people. And senior citizens get first priority but we help others too.”

The demand and workload are high enough that more volunteers would be very welcome — and are, in fact, necessary to secure the program’s future, since all of those currently serving are in their mid-70s or older.

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“We’re always looking for additional volunteers, and people can contact me if they’re interested in helping next year,” said Koning.

Koning assures that no one has to be an expert in taxes to be of help, given the annual training required and the experience she and the other existing volunteers bring to the desk.

“I’d say it would help for potential volunteers to have good computer skills, to be good with other people and have some attention to detail,” said Koning.

“The program we use works so slick that you enter the W-2 information and it goes to all the forms it needs to — it’s pretty automated.”

Betty McAllister and her husband Lee have shared their time and skills with the free tax service from February through early April for over 10 years.

“It’s helpful to a lot of people, and we enjoy working with them,” said McAllister. “This year is challenging because it’s more fun to do it in person.”

The hours Koning logs during tax season aren’t the only ones she dedicates to the greater community; she also volunteers with Senior Linkage, works for the Red Cross Bloodmobile in Round Lake, and as an election judge, and is active in the Round Lake American Legion Auxiliary.

That leaves Koning with the perfect amount of time to relax with the Vikings and NCIS shows.

“I just like to get out and help other people,” said Koning.

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