By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Mark Browne loves learning — both acquiring knowledge for himself and sharing it with others. That is what made him say “yes” to volunteering with United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense tax preparation team.
RealSense, United Way’s financial-stability initiative, serves thousands of residents through free tax preparation services like Browne provides. Last tax season alone, RealSense, in partnership with AARP, filed more than 20,000 tax returns resulting in $27.4 million in refunds and saving area residents a total of $4.5 million in tax preparer fees.
Through his work with RealSense over the last 10 years, Browne has become what he calls “quite the tax guru,” being the go-to person at RealSense tax preparation sites, putting his years of working for the Internal Revenue Service to use.
“I love helping all of the clients,” Browne said. “Senior citizens have a special place in my heart. I love helping them resolve issues or understand the language in the tax forms.”
Browne says his compassion for others dates back to a specific incident when he was a child.
“My third- or fourth-grade teacher accidentally slipped on a piece of soap,” Browne said. “It caused her to hurt herself terribly, and it was my fault.”
Browne said he knew he was in big trouble when the teacher asked him to stay after class to talk to her about the incident.
“When she came over and gave me a hug, I knew it would be OK,” Browne said. “That taught me that I could have compassion in all things. I always go back to this; if she hadn’t shown me compassion then, I wouldn’t have learned it.”
Browne grew up in the Northeast, ending up in Florida by way of his service in the Navy and Coast Guard. He moved to Jacksonville, starting his family here and beginning his career with the IRS.
Now retired, Browne is passing on his knowledge of tax law through RealSense. He volunteers as an instructor for the certification program for volunteer providers and, through a partnership with the Vy-Star Academies of Finance at Ribault and Wolfson High schools, trained high school students to be future tax preparers.
“You can really see the light bulb go off with them,” Browne said. “It’s a beautiful thing. You have to make life interesting for young people. I think working with them is wonderful. They are so eager.”
Through RealSense, Browne found a way to take his love of learning, teaching and IRS tax law and mold it into a volunteer opportunity that touches lives across Northeast Florida.
“It took me a while to find a way,” Browne said. “I want to stay sharp with taxes. One of the ways I get to do that is by teaching.”