Volunteer Lyla Ross Makes Taxes a Lot Less Taxing

“I used to be a legal secretary in Boston,” says Lyla with a smile, “but I’d never really worked with the public before. It turns out I enjoyed it..."

Lyla Ross is a bright spirit. She has been a long-time volunteer for Volunteers of America’s Midcoast Creating Assets Savings and Hope (CA$H) Coalition who greets clients at the front door  and helps make their tax day calmer and more rewarding. The Coalition is an award-winning program run by Volunteers of America that helps low- and moderate-income Maine families and individuals improve their financial stability through free tax preparation and financial asset building.

Lyla has been volunteering as a greeter, known as a “coach” in the program, since the program was first launched in 2007. “Lyla is a great volunteer for us — a stalwart and a positive influence,” says Kelly Grant, Volunteers of America’s project director for the Coalition. “She meets people at the front door as they show up for their appointment, helps them fill out various forms to get started, and chats with them, easing their potential anxiety as we get ready to plunge into their taxes. I’ve even seen her sit down on the floor and play with clients’ kids while the parents get organized!”

Kelly explains that part of Lyla’s challenge is also related to the nature of the spaces in which the CA$H Coalition team and its clients do their work, including college classrooms, community rooms at Bowdoin College and Volunteers of America’s Westrum House, and other large spaces in the midcoast region. “These are to some extent public spaces,” says Kelly, “and people naturally think of their finances as private.”

Lyla was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, moving several years later to Rochester, New York, and then to Maine at age 10. She attended Brunswick High School and Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she studied art history. “I got started with the Coalition at the suggestion of Shelley Taylor, the midcoast regional manager for Women, Work, and Community in Bath,” says Lyla. “I told her, ‘I don’t know how to do people’s taxes!’ — and we discovered I could be a coach instead.”

The Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community is a statewide nonprofit organization that works to help improve the economic lives of Maine women and their families. “I used to be a legal secretary in Boston,” says Lyla with a smile, “but I’d never really worked with the public before. It turns out I enjoyed it, and I was interested in our clients. I can help them feel welcome as fellow human beings — and not judged. And, well, I’ve been doing it ever since!”

Lyla also refers coalition clients to Shelley Taylor, who continues to help them gain more stability by connecting them to community resources and education. “Shelley and her co-workers lead many budgeting workshops, for example, and programs on how to save money on healthcare,” says Lyla. By day, Lyla is a working artist and businessperson who creates striking hand puppets sold at Markings Gallery in downtown Bath. Markings is an artist-owned business, offering original Maine art in clay, metal, glass, wood, fiber, paint, and other media. Lyla lives in Bath with her 16-year-old son and two cats.

The Midcoast CA$H Coalition is very grateful to have Lyla as a volunteer. "She is a great model for new and returning volunteers,” says Sharon. “She inspires us all.” CA$H Maine offers free tax preparation by IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers and financial asset coaching statewide from January to mid-April. Volunteers of America is the lead agency for both the Midcoast coalition and the statewide organization. For details or to volunteer for the The Midcoast CA$H Coalition or any CA$H Coalition statewide, visit http://www.cashmaine.org/get-involved/volunteer or contact Kelly Grant at 207-373-1140