From Gardening to Taxes: My Volunteer Journey

I’ve always been drawn to the concept of Skills-based Volunteering (SBV). It’s a simple notion: find an area or skill in which you excel and support someone who needs help with that skillset. It’s a win-win for both parties.

When I joined Vanguard, the question for me was not whether or not I wanted to volunteer, but rather where I could have the most impact. Specifically, I remember the announcement that Vanguard would be kicking off a community garden and crew members with “green thumbs” could put their talents to good use. Unfortunately for me, if you ever saw or experienced my gardening skills, you would see why our community garden team has not been knocking down my door. Okay, the community garden was out, which was probably best for all involved. So what skills could I put to good use…besides my lacking horticultural talents?

Finding the right opportunity for me

This question made me reflect a bit on my learning experiences since joining Vanguard in 2012, with the hope of narrowing down the appropriate skill to leverage before jumping head first into the Skills-based Volunteering “deep end.” To be honest, this was a tricky exercise for me. I have been very fortunate to have had a number of diverse learning experiences over the past seven years: participating in Vanguard’s rotational leadership development program, going back to graduate school for an MBA, and teaching business courses as an adjunct faculty member at a local community college. As valuable as these experiences have been for my development, I wouldn’t necessarily say they set me up to be a specialist in traditional SBV fields (IT, Legal, Finance, etc.).  What they have impressed on me is the value and importance of being a lifelong learner.  I paused after this reflection period, a bit frustrated that I hadn’t gotten any closer to locking in which skill to leverage when volunteering…or so I thought.

I had lunch with a mentor of mine later that week and shared my SBV conundrum. As a good mentor does, she responded with some sound questioning. I expressed to her that I had hoped to leverage the skills I’ve developed at Vanguard to help give back in a meaningful manner. She shared with me an opportunity to help lower-income families file their taxes in a program called VITA at Vanguard. As someone with an undergraduate degree in biology, I initially balked at the recommendation, thinking I had no business helping anyone with his or her taxes. She chuckled a bit, then shared that Vanguard leads an onsite training to help you prepare for the IRS designation and certification for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.  Like so many times in the past, Vanguard provided me with an opportunity to learn a new skill and put it to good use. I was sold and decided to sign up for the first available training.

More than just taxes

The tax season flew by and I left with a renewed sense of why I wanted to leverage SBV in the first place.  This opportunity provided countless memorable interactions, like a single parent telling me they used the refund money to save for their two daughters’ college educations, or a family of four that used their refund to pay a medical bill.  It was a humbling experience in which I selfishly felt like I took more away than the families I worked with.

It was a truly rewarding experience and one I will not soon forget.  For me, it was a great reminder of the importance of being open minded to learning new skills and being a lifelong learner.  You never know where you’ll be able put those talents to good use.

-Marty L.

Sharing our expertise with others is one way Vanguard crew connect with our communities. Learn more about how Vanguard helps communities have the best chance for success. And if you’re seeking an environment where you can make a difference and develop professionally, check out our career opportunities at

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