The Mexican American family came looking for help—with their taxes. Dad was a maintenance worker. Mom was a homemaker. The eldest of their three children served as their translator. When a helpful volunteer ran their tax return numbers and gave them the results, they couldn’t believe it: An $8,500 refund was on its way.
Roxanne Chow ’07 BUS, ’07 BUS, was that volunteer, and she will never forget the family’s moment of joy. “The mom had tears in her eyes, and she hugged me really hard, saying, ‘Thank you so much!’” Chow recalls. “I had spent maybe 45 minutes with them, and it was obvious that this had a huge impact on their lives.” As a volunteer tax advisor, Chow has delivered similar good news to dozens of families and individuals during her seven years of service to Ladder Up, a Chicago nonprofit agency that provides tax assistance, financial education and college financial aid to low-income households.
“We see families and individuals who are making $20,000 or $30,000 a year, and they’re getting $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 back,” Chow says. “This one-time refund is often the biggest amount [of money] they see during the entire year.”
A CPA who works in the Chicago Loop offices of professional services giant Ernst & Young, Chow might seem a bit overqualified to go line by line through 1040s and W2s. Yet, “taxes are not my forte,” she demurs. “I took a couple of corporate taxation classes in college, but that was about it. The great thing about Ladder Up is that every single volunteer, regardless of background, goes through comprehensive training.”
Speaking of ladders, Chow is moving up. In addition to making partner at EY this past July, she has joined the Ladder Up board, helping to raise more than $130,000 for the nonprofit this year. But working on the front lines of disadvantaged America—where people struggle to pay for rent, food and childcare—is what Chow values most about volunteer work.
“Returning to the same site year after year, you see a lot of the same clients. You get to see the kids grow up, you get to talk to the parents about their lives,” she says. “That human element and that interaction—I really have a soft spot for it.”