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Deb Fisher, LII Donor and Volunteer AARP Tax-Aide

Displaying Deb & Warren.jpgDeb Fisher spends a lot of time in the LII’s U.S. Code Title 26 – also known as the Internal Revenue Code. That’s because she’s a retired civil engineer who volunteers for the AARP’s Tax-Aide program.  Tax-Aide provides tax preparation for low-to-middle income people.  Most, but not all, are seniors. It serves 2.6 million taxpayers annually at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. Nationally, the organization has 35,000 volunteers, and only 12 paid staff.   It’s a great example of how the free legal information at the LII helps those who help others.

Deb and her husband Warren work for Tax-Aide because they like to solve puzzles. “I saw an article in the newspaper about the training,” Deb says. “I had just retired and was missing the numbers part of my brain. I got absolutely hooked.” She would come home and tell Warren about the intriguing puzzles she had solved, so he volunteered too.

“In some volunteer jobs, you understand how important they are, but go a long time before seeing results,” explains Deb. “With Tax-Aide, at the end of the hour you have someone just glowing with thanks—it’s almost a drug, being so appreciated.” The anti-drug happens “when you have people who unexpectedly end up owing money and have to make a monthly payment plan. That’s emotionally hard.”

Twenty years after helping with her first tax return as one of Tax-Aide’s thousands of volunteers, Deb is one of 10 who serve on the National Tax Training Committee (NTTC), working to develop the materials used for training the Tax-Aide volunteers.

The NTTC volunteers collaborate to develop Tax-Aide training in a specific area, as well as assisting the IRS to develop the official training materials. Deb explains: “The ten of us produce the AARP supplements. We also produce special programs for the instructors in case the class needs a particular problem to supplement their training.”

Her husband Warren is a district coordinator, running what is called a Super Site. “There are five tax sites in our county,” Deb explains. “The fifth one, the Super Site, is at a local mall. It’s open six days a week and two evenings, with 12 to 15 volunteer preparers. They do 4,000 tax returns each year. Warren makes sure the sites run well, and that the instructors cover everything the volunteers need to know. He also takes one day a week to do tax returns.”

Deb and Warren trained as civil engineers, then worked for the forest service. “Campgrounds need power, water, roads, bathrooms, and offices,” says Deb. “I mostly worked on roads and trails. We did trail bridges, a lot of road and trail design. Warren was a ski-lift engineer—so he had to go skiing.”

The couple lived in Anchorage, Arizona, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Quincy, CA. “When we were married, we made a list of places we wanted to live,” Deb explains. “We had wonderful careers, with good people who were all working toward the same thing.” They chose to retire early—and have had 20 years of fun!

The Fishers now live in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, “We had bought land there when we were first married, and we would come and camp on it every Labor Day,” recalls Deb. “It was 80 degrees, sunny, with wonderful lakes. We decided that had to be heaven. But when we moved up here we discovered that winter is cold and gray. The Rockies lie to the east of us, and the clouds pile up here.” On the other hand, she says, the Tax-Aide work is perfect for gray days.

Now, however, Deb helps with training during the tax season, and then spends the rest of the year working with the NTTC to create the training. Working at home, she spends three or four days a week on Tax-Aide. “We certainly take off on vacation now and then,” she notes. In their spare time, Warren likes golfing; Deb likes to line dance—and now she’s a dance instructor. She also enjoys gardening, and, like Ithaca gardeners, has a running battle with nibbling deer. “I’d like to make a deal with them,” she says. “Eat my plants in the daytime when I can see you!” Perhaps the Fishers can solve that puzzle, too.

Deb concludes,“ When someone has a volunteer job they really love and the spouse doesn’t, it can create some conflict, but when we’re both involved, it’s great.”