insight magazine

Finding a Higher Purpose in Volunteering

Building a successful career feels great, but sometimes reaching out and helping someone else feels even better. By Roxanne Chow, CPA | Fall 2020

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When I was a kid, I assumed my purpose-driven life would include all the “normal” milestones: graduating high school, going to college, getting a good job, getting married, and having a family. But as I’ve aged like a fine wine, I’ve come to realize that I wanted a higher purpose than just hitting those milestones—and I feel like I’ve discovered that greater purpose in my volunteer work.

I started volunteering with Ladder Up when friends of mine who were on Ladder Up’s Associates Board invited me to check it out. They told me that Ladder Up is a Chicago non-profit organization that provides financial education and resources to low-income individuals and families. My friends encouraged me to volunteer for the Tax Assistance Program (TAP), which provides free tax preparation services from late January through April 15 every year.

At first, I was nervous—I’d done my own taxes before, but what was I doing pretending to be a tax expert for other people? Sure, I have a CPA, but I went into audit and then accounting advisory, certainly not individual taxes by any stretch of the imagination. But I went.

My first client was a single 19-year-old woman with one W-2. I thought, perfect—I can do this. Then my second clients were a married couple with three kids, who were half watching cartoons on mom’s phone and half annoyed to sit still in a strange place for an hour and a half. They were immigrants from Mexico and spoke little English but were very warm and friendly. The dad worked full time and the mom was a homemaker; they made $35,000 in total for the year. I went through their paperwork and got to work, entering their information into the software and asking them a series of questions their 12-year-old helped translate. As I wrapped up and looked at their 1040, I saw that they were going to get a refund of $8,500. When the quality review volunteer and I told them that number, the mom started crying and the parents both jumped up to hug us.

This was when I knew that I wanted to make volunteering a regular part of my life. It was an indescribable feeling to feel immense gratitude from these strangers and see the impact that you can have on another person’s life from spending just 45 minutes with them. I have spent the past seven tax seasons volunteering as a tax preparer for Ladder Up, and it has been—and continues to be—one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.

So many people in this country don’t have the same access to financial education and resources as I did, and it creates a massive economic gap starting from birth that grows exponentially into adulthood. This is why I volunteer with organizations like Ladder Up that help provide the resources needed to shrink that gap and give people the means to build better lives. I can’t solve all these issues on my own, but I can lead a purpose-driven life, one volunteer session at a time.

Roxanne Chow is a senior manager in accounting advisory at EY and the 2018 winner of the Women to Watch Emerging Leader Award from the Illinois CPA Society's Women's Committee and the American Institute of CPAs Women's Initiatives Executive Committee.


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  1. Trish | Oct 09, 2020
    Hey Roxanne, what a great read on a Friday afternoon!  You have inspired me to see where I can do more to give back.  This is how we will truly make the world work better.  Thank you.
  2. Ravi Kallepalli | Oct 09, 2020
    Roxanne, your work and the example you set is so inspiring. Typically as accountants we don't see ourselves as living a purpose driven life impacting people around us and making it better.  And doing it consistently over seven tax seasons shows your commitment to the cause. So proud of knowing this side of you and encouraging us all to do the little by little changes we all can for making it a better place and living EY and personal values.
  3. Marty Ross | Oct 02, 2020

    Hi Roxanne, Great write-up for the ICPAS Insight publication.  Your real life story is much like many of mine over the nearly 25 years I've volunteered with Ladder Up/Tax Assistance Program.  The only difference, I started TAP when we did paper returns for all clients. The hugs and tears are less frequent as families get used to the sizeable refunds the Earned Income Credit provides them each year, but it's still rewarding to see 25% - 35% of gross wages coming back to these hard-working families in a tax refund.  Real money! 

    It's been an honor volunteering at the same LU site with you and our group of extremely dedicated volunteers each tax season.  And I cannot say enough about our site leader, Steve.  And thank you for planning and excuting on the "retirement party" in mid-March for Peter that also served as a great end-of-season party in this COVID-19 shortened LU tax year.

  4. Julie Zielke | Oct 01, 2020
    Roxanne - so well said and we are so tremendously proud of you and your volunteerism and the impact you are making on Ladder Up and beyond in our communities!!

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