Finding a Higher Purpose in Volunteering
Building a successful career feels great, but sometimes reaching out and helping someone else feels even better.
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
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
at EY and the 2018
winner of the
Women to Watch
Award from the
Illinois CPA Society's
and the American
Institute of CPAs