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Volunteer Profile: John Giffin

January 27, 2015

by Nancy Winckler-Zuniga, originally published in the Mayport Mirror

John Giffin is a dedicated RealSense tax site coordinator, helping families strengthen their financial stability.
John Giffin is a dedicated RealSense tax site coordinator, helping families strengthen their financial stability.

It seems early for tax season, but this past week John Giffin was making sure that the CareerSource site in Yulee would partner with the United Way RealSense tax preparation team. As site coordinator, his volunteer efforts are year-round. Planning now means that when tax season begins, they will be able to service clients more efficiently. Partnering with CareerSource is an important part of that efficiency.

Giffin grew up playing number games with his dad.

“I was doing multiplication and division in kindergarten,” he said. “It always came easy.”

It was something they shared together in the times that his dad was home from his tours in the Navy.

“My dad had gone to sea for years, and my uncles were naval officers. There were always tales of yore. They were always at sea or some foreign port,” Giffin said. So it was logical that he would join the Navy as well and have his chance to see those international ports.

The Navy is where he began helping others make sure their taxes were done properly.

In 1987, while a junior officer teaching chemistry and radio control technology, Giffin took a two-week class that enabled him to help sailors do their taxes on site.

“Guys on crew didn’t have anyone to go to or time,” he said. He said that while single men had fairly simple returns to file, many sailors were young and had never filed for themselves or didn’t know how to deal with the complications of family life and taxes.

After retiring from the Navy in 2008 and years abroad, Giffin and his wife chose to return to Florida and settled into Amelia Island life.

It almost didn’t happen. Giffin’s dad’s health began to fail, and the son who once played math games with dad ended up handling his father’s finances long distance.

When Giffin’s wife began helping the Amelia Island Humane Society, Giffin decided that he could return to helping others with their taxes.

“I hate to see people get ripped off,” he said. Watching residents in the area fall victim to preparation companies whose fees eat into desperately needed refunds was not something he could leave alone.

Giffin began helping in 2008 and has seen his role grow from tax preparer to site coordinator handling logistics and helping with complicated situations.

Being the only free tax preparation site in the area brings in interesting cases.

The widening of Florida A1A between Interstate 95 and Amelia Island brought one elderly woman and her daughter into the site last year. County payment for the land necessitated a search for a title that had been bought during World War II and the need to update tax returns over the last five years. It had been too confusing for the elderly woman to understand.

In another situation, the mortgage company to which one man had been making interest payments wasn’t declaring them. Further investigation revealed what could have been a very difficult situation for the client and a fraudulent situation for the mortgage company. Giffin and his team were able to straighten everything out.

“I meet neat people. Sometimes I think there but for the grace of God, if I’d made one wrong turn,” Giffin said.

And he knows that the number games that his dad taught him are helping many others now.