By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Dorie Offhaus jumped up as the buzzer sounded again, watching the next client arrive at the May Day Tax Preparation event host by United Way of North Florida’s RealSense financial stability initiative.
This RealSense event helps those who missed the April 15 Internal Revenue Service tax deadline get their taxes in order and filed. United Way’s RealSense is a nationally recognized financial stability initiative designed to save families money and promote responsible fiscal habits.
“I see [the clients’] faces walking in all nervous,” Offhaus said. “Then, I see the smiles when they walk out again.”
As each person walked in to check their name off the appointment list or see if there would be an opportunity to talk to a preparer, Offhaus took care to disarm as much initial nervousness as she could.
“I’m a people person,” she said, “and I’ve been in a lot of people’s shoes.”
Offhaus began volunteering while an employee with Bank of America. The company’s encouragement to participate in community betterment efforts was a guiding force behind her involvement with RealSense.
She participated in RealSense trainings to help her to understand the range of needs of clients, from military personnel to Affordable Care Act information. It was a chance to expand her horizons, to get beyond the office. Through these trainings, she earned an “advanced preparer” certificate.
It was her sister, too, who set the example for getting out of her comfort zone. Working on the toll roads that used to cut through Jacksonville, Offhaus’s sister spent every spare moment helping others when not working.
“She worked at the toll booths all day,” Offhaus said. “Her [outlet] was to get out and help her neighbors on her time off. I used to say, ‘Girl, you don’t have to do this,’ and she would answer, ‘My heart will only go where my heart will go.’ I was 22 at the time – three years older – when she expressed that diligence.”
While initially worried about her sister running herself into the ground, Offhaus and her family were proud of her sister’s commitment to others.
Offhaus remembers growing up with her siblings on the Southside of Jacksonville. They would play through the pine woods, climbing the young trees until they bent over and jumping off with abandon. Whether riding their bikes or heading to the pool, they found ways to keep themselves out of trouble, depending on each other.
Offhaus is proud of the way RealSense tax preparer volunteers can help clients find solutions to tax problems – they have someone to depend on like her family depended on each other.
“Seeing others benefit is more than any dollars you can get,” Offhaus said.
If you would like to learn more about RealSense, including to learn how you can volunteer for the financial stability initiative, visit unitedwaynefl.org.