Speak with any of the seniors involved with the Senior Tax Worker Program at the Hempfield School District, and you will be met with enthusiasm. The response is always the same, “I love working here and being a part of this program!”
In 2006, the Hempfield Board of School Directors began exploring ways to help seniors with their taxes. The goal was to provide senior-aged property owners with some economic help while at the same time helping them feel as if they are doing something to earn it. A collaboration of ideas led to the creation of the Hempfield Senior Tax Worker Program, which offers district property owners, age 65 and over, the opportunity to apply for “substitute employee” positions within the district and to designate that their net pay (after taxes) be placed in an account and applied against their tax bills. There is a cap on the earnings of $550 (or $275 apiece for a married couple who are both participating in the program).
Dan Forry, who is the chief operating officer with the Hempfield School District, points to a cooperative effort by the school district as a whole – its teachers and employees – for the program’s success. He maintains that a lot of people may think the school district is bringing people in and getting services done, but what has proven to be even more valuable are the interactions between the senior workers and the students. Intergenerational relationships have become the surprise element that is driving the success of this program. Students are given the opportunity to interact with an older generation (in a county that attracts residents from all over the nation, many young people lose that grandparent connection as a result of relocating), while the older generation is able to contribute by helping the school district as well as the students.
Josie Lehman, who was named “Senior Tax Worker of the Year 2014-2015,” can attest to that. “The first year it was offered, I thought it was literally for people who gave up eating or going to the doctor just so they could pay their taxes,” she explains. Josie soon learned otherwise. Her peers made her aware that the program is also about giving back. Her son, Brian, an art teacher with the district, encouraged both Josie and her husband, Leroy, to apply for the program.
The process begins with seniors completing an application form, which can be obtained on the Hempfield website or from the Human Resources Office. Once the application is submitted to the school district for consideration, applicants are called in for interviews, or what the district likes to call “friendly conversations.” According to Shannon Zimmerman, the district’s communications specialist, “Naming the interviews ‘friendly conversations’ seems less intimidating to the seniors and takes away any feelings of apprehension of having to sit through an interview.”
Each potentially accepted applicant must go through the standard employment clearances, including the Pennsylvania State Police Request for Criminal Records Check, Department of Public Welfare Child Abuse History Clearance and Federal Criminal History Record Information (FBI fingerprint check). The $8 criminal records and child abuse checks, as well as the $33 FBI fingerprinting fee, are paid by the applicant. A Tuberculin Tine Test is district policy as well.
Work assignments are based on interests, experience and physical ability. Some seniors choose to work at a school close to home, while others are willing to go anywhere in the district. Josie, who is retired from the district’s tax office and returns to help with occasional mailings, works primarily at the district’s elementary schools.
Surprisingly, once the senior workers have completed their hours and have reached their $550 limits, many choose to stay on and volunteer their time for the remainder of the school year. They find they really love what they are doing and want to do more. According to Dan Forry, Hempfield’s senior workers “see some of the challenges the kids face today and how phenomenal they are in what they are accomplishing, so the workers are more than eager to jump in and continue to help.”
“Stand-in volunteering” is yet another aspect that makes this program what it has become – “a program with a heart.” Once workers meet their $550 limit, they can then choose to donate their time as a “stand-in volunteer” for another senior who is unable to do so because of health issues or other personal matters. The credits the “stand-in” workers earn are then designated for another resident’s account.
“It is a great way to volunteer and give of yourself,” Josie says. She also reports that the experience has given her a new respect for teachers. “I really appreciate being a part of this program,” she confides.
Each April, Hempfield thanks its workers – 180 participated during the 2014-15 school year – by hosting a reception (the event and the Senior Tax Worker of the Year award are sponsored by Mennonite Home Communities). The district also treats its senior-aged citizens to complimentary previews of the high school’s musical and dance theatre (a very hot ticket) productions every year.
Hempfield seniors can learn more about the program by calling 898-5565 or by visiting Hempfieldsd.org. Many other Lancaster County school districts offer assistance to seniors through programs such as this or through rebate programs. Call your school district or visit its website to inquire about tax-saving opportunities for seniors.