By Janice Keller, Bellingham Public Library
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “tax season”? You may not think of celebrating, but we do! At the Bellingham Public Library, during tax season we celebrate our partners who are providing free tax preparation services at the Central Library. It is one of many basic needs, financial, cultural and literacy services we are proud to support, being offered free-of-charge in our facilities.
Free tax preparation services
The Tax-Aide Program of the AARP Foundation provides free tax preparation at the library each year. The volunteers who provide this vital service met with more than 1,600 people during the 2015 tax season, and filed 1,453 federal income tax returns, all from their humble temporary home at the Central Library. While we provide one of several county-wide locations where they offer this free service, the majority of people they assisted came through our downtown library doors.
In addition to helping people file their taxes correctly and on time, they helped return an average of $1,531 each last year to taxpayers who were eligible to receive a refund. That’s money in people’s pockets, and returned to our community, thanks to the expertise and careful work of trained and experienced volunteers.
This year, these volunteers are providing tax preparation services at the Central Library from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 1-4:30 p.m. on Saturdays through April 18, which is the 2016 deadline to file personal tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service. Spanish language translation assistance is available during the Saturday sessions.
Free legal & identification services
Another service provider with a regular presence in our facilities is LAW Advocates, providing two free services at the Central Library. At the Street Law clinic, volunteers provide free legal assistance to low-income individuals and families, ensuring their legal rights are protected and their employment, healthcare, safety and livelihoods are maintained. The format allows people to address their legal issues one-on-one with volunteer lawyers.
At the Access ID Project, non-lawyer volunteers provide assistance to homeless or at-risk individuals to help them navigate the process to obtain state-issued ID. These services are a lifeline to homeless individuals seeking housing, health, legal and employment assistance, all of which require proof of identity.
LAW Advocates’ clinics are held at the Central Library generally twice a month on Saturdays. Upcoming days both clinics are scheduled include 1-4 p.m. on March 26 and April 2, 2016. For details about LAW Advocates’ services and how you can help, visit www.lawadvocates.org.
Free literacy & cultural services
Another important partner is the Whatcom Literacy Council, whose services provided throughout the county change people’s lives by teaching adults to read, write and speak English. Through customized, individual tutoring and focused small group classes, they support adult learners to acquire the critical skills needed to become more self-sufficient. Whatcom Literacy Council tutors use our library and our books, online learning tools and other resources when they meet with their students at our facilities. For details about these services and how you can help, visit www.whatcomliteracy.org.
These are just a few of our dozens of partners, each serving important local needs and interests. Other examples include those offering rewarding opportunities for art, history and cultural enrichment and community-building, such as:
- The Bellingham Storytellers Guild, which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the storytelling of all cultures and nurturing our local storytelling community. They meet the third Friday evening of each month at the Fairhaven Branch Library, details available at on their Facebook page.
- The Whatcom Genealogical Society, which is dedicated to promoting genealogical and family history research and preserving local historical records. They provide volunteers at the library every Wednesday to help people research their heritage. Details about this and other services available at http://wagenweb.org/whatcom/WGS/wgs.htm.
- The award-winning poetrynight series is shaping the literary landscape of our region by providing opportunities for new and established writers to share their work. They meet nearly every Monday night at the Central Library. Details about events held at the library and elsewhere available at http://blog.poetrynight.org.
We invite you to visit and see for yourself all the free services provided by other organizations at the Bellingham Public Library. We are proud to partner with them so they can do their work, which in turn also supports the Bellingham Public Library’s mission: Connecting our community with each other and the world to read, learn, meet and discover.
Janice Keller is the Communications, Community Relations and Programming Manager for the Bellingham Public Library.
Photo: Volunteers provide tax preparation assistance at the Bellingham Public Library. More than 1,600 people visited the Central Library last year seeking help preparing their federal income tax returns, a service provided free of charge by the Tax-Aide Program of the AARP Foundation. Photo by Radley Muller, April 2015.