Q & A with Jenn Deschene, Community Engagement Manager

April 2023

Preparing tax returns can be challenging for anyone. For over 50 years, the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs have offered free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals requiring additional assistance with their tax returns. The VITA and TCE programs are typically coordinated by local community action agencies, and depend heavily on volunteer tax preparers.

In Aroostook County, UCU Community Engagement Manager Jenn Deschene is the newest of seven volunteer tax preparers serving Aroostook residents through a partnership between the United Way of Aroostook and the Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP).

We caught up with Jenn to learn more about VITA/TCE and her experience as a volunteer tax preparer:

How did you become involved in VITA/TCE?

As one of UCU’s Community Engagement Managers, I represent UCU out in the communities we serve in support of financial literacy, volunteerism, and public service. Since 2021, I have served on the board of directors of the United Way of Aroostook, which organizes the VITA/TCE program. United Way of Aroostook approached me about becoming a VITA/TCE volunteer, as there is an urgent need for more VITA/TCE volunteer preparers. I was familiar with the program already from my colleague, UCU Community Engagement Manager Lesley Ridge, who volunteers with the CA$H Coalition in Southern Maine.

Recognizing the need in my community, and being a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor (CCUFC) already, I was more than happy to step in. During tax season, I volunteered five hours a week, serving about 6-10 individuals a day. Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP) managed all the program organization and scheduling.

What was the training and certification process like?

While I was a little nervous at the start, the volunteer training and certification process was very straightforward. Volunteers receive a study guide and complete a series of online tests at their own pace to become certified. There is no prior knowledge or training in tax preparation required, so anyone looking to volunteer can easily complete the process.

Beyond tax preparation assistance, how else does this program help Aroostook County residents?

Program participants were able to learn about and access other available resources through Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP), such as energy, food, and housing assistance.

What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteering so far?

The most rewarding part of this experience was meeting new people and being able to make a positive difference in their lives, in ways I did not expect when I first came onboard. I met people from all over Aroostook County who traveled to participate in this program, listened to their stories, and, in a few instances, was able to clear up misconceptions about taxes and connect them with other available resources through Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP).

I’ve also gained a wealth of knowledge about personal income tax that will help me in my role as a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor. Anyone in Maine can schedule free virtual or in-person financial counseling appointments at UCU- membership is not required and there is no obligation. For more information, visit www.ucumaine.com/ccufc/.

I enjoyed my experience so much that I plan do this again next year!

If someone is interested in becoming a volunteer tax preparer, where should they start?

VITA/TCE volunteer tax preparers are greatly needed. Prospective volunteers should contact the United Way of Aroostook to learn more: https://unitedwayaroostook.org/contact-us/.

Here For U: Jenn Deschene

Jenn Deschene is one of UCU’s Community Engagement Managers. Jenn grew up in northern Maine and attended the University of Maine at Presque Isle. After graduation in 2000, she relocated to the Bangor area and began working for a local credit union where she held a variety of positions. She relocated to the southern Maine area with her family in 2012, and eventually relocated back to her roots in northern Maine in 2015 where she is currently a Community Engagement Manager based at the UCU branch on the UMPI campus.

Jenn is a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor and IRS-certified VITA/TCE volunteer tax preparer. She volunteers and serves on several local, organization boards such as the Presque Isle Parks and Recreations Advisory Board, the United Way of Aroostook, the University of Presque Isle Alumni Association, Aroostook Aspirations Initiative and Presque Isle Rotary Club. She resides in Presque Isle with her husband, Clint and two children, Reagen and Duke. When not working, Jenn enjoys watching her children play sports, golfing, volunteering in her community and traveling to tropical destinations.