The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Community Development Corporation is not the kind of financial institution that worries financial regulators like the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. More often than not, it is a champion of the little guy.

Its staff works with tribal members and employees to provide financial products and counseling services. It offers these same services to Native American owned-businesses throughout the United States. Consumer Lending Manager Tina Pollard is one such employee. In an effort to continue her service to the local community’s financial needs, she began volunteering as a tax preparer with the Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency’s Shawnee,
Oklahoma location during work hours with the support of CPCDC Director Shane Jett.

The Hownikan spoke with Pollard about how she got into this role and why it is important to her as a financial professional.

Where are you doing tax preparation at and how did that start?

“In prior years the Oklahoma Indian Legal Service partnered with the CPCDC and CPN Employment and Training to provide tax services to Native Americans. They rather abruptly discontinued the service, leaving the Central Oklahoma Community Action Agency’s tax preparation site the only one in the Shawnee community.

“The next year COCAA’s Thixe Totty explained their site was too small to help the volume of people – who were mostly Native American – in need of this service. She also said it is hard to recruit preparers. Since tax season is a slow time for the CPCDC’s nonprofit loan funds, I volunteered. I have been doing taxes one day a week during tax seasons in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Their site was not open last year and the community suffered as a result.”

Is this a service of the CPCDC?

“The CPCDC pays my salary while I am volunteering, so they are basically making an in-kind donation. The tribe has already donated 48 hours of my time this year and that number will more than double by the end of tax season, an aggregate of approximately 288 hours.”

Why do you work at this specific program instead of a place like H&R Block or Liberty Tax Preparation?

“CPN is a catalyst for change in the  predatory lending industry. Through the CPCDC, they fought this kind of lending by influencing policy, creating alternative programs and using their sovereignty to protect their employees from unfair collection practices used by predatory lenders.

“Places such as H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and Liberty offer Refund Anticipation Loans, which make predatory loans.

“They ask if you want your return today and if the person does, they will give them the funds minus their preparation fees and the fees and interest of this ‘loan’. They can also establish a line of credit to basically borrow against the person’s return for next year.

“These loans are very predatory and dangerous to financial security and I work to combat that, not support it.”

Why do this kind of work? Isn’t tax preparation stressful?

“I love helping people. My volunteerism is somewhat selfish though; it fills my need to make a difference. There is no bigger high than watching someone achieve their goals.”

Where can people learn more about this service?

“Our VITA site is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during tax season. An appointment is strongly encouraged. There is a lady from the IRS, Dena Baker, that volunteers every Saturday and our generous lead preparer this year is Bill Vanbeber.

“We have a host of other volunteers, mostly elders, who are all volunteering on their own. CPN is the only business who pays an employee to volunteer for our VITA site. We can only be open if we are staffed, so if anyone would like to donate their time, feel free to call COCAA at (405) 275-7910.”