Spotlight: Answering the Call to Serve

IB ImageJames Findley (right) has since 2011 worked as an examiner in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) unit of Connecticut's Department of Revenue Services (DRS). He is part of a team that helps ensure access to critical relief for the approximately 200,000 low-income working families that depend on the vital benefit each year. 
As Findley describes it, the EITC "delivers a positive 'snowball effect'" across the state. 
"A small boost in working peoples' tax returns is an investment in local communities," said Findley, a steward in our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Administrative & Residual (A&R) Employees Union. “Studies that have looked at the EITC have shown that all residents benefit, not just those receiving the relief," he added.
Click here for an in-depth analysis of the EITC in 2017 by Connecticut Voices for Children.
According to Findley, building effective relationships with community-based organizations has empowered his team to improve their outreach efforts and educate taxpayers firsthand about the benefits of the EITC.
One such example is the highly successful Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which is operated statewide by the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS). The social services organization coordinates with DRS, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a variety of local public agencies and private non-profits to promote the EITC to eligible families.
"We appreciate the VITA volunteers who help us reach the very residents that the benefit is designed for," said Findley. "From training organizers to sharing best practices, we really value organizations like CAHS that help us make a difference," he added.
Click here for press reporting on Findley's work with CAHS and the VITA program.
For Findley, community service is about more than partnerships on the job as a state employee. He has for thirteen years been a volunteer with the American Red Cross, a role that he first took on for the opportunity "to give back."
"Originally, I got involved after Hurricane Katrina," Findley explained. “My father is from Louisiana, so that was when I decided to approach the Red Cross to be trained in disaster relief," he added.
While not called in to service in 2005, Findley expected he would be sent to the Houston area this past fall after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast. He took a refresher course to prepare for immediate deployment —  but then a series of powerful storms struck Florida and the Caribbean.
"Maria hit — and that was a big one," Findley said. Though it had slightly weakened to a high-end Category 4 hurricane by the time it made landfall, it proved to be Puerto Rico's worst natural disaster on record.
Within six days Findley arrived in the U.S. territory as part of the Connecticut Red Cross chapter's first "jump team" to assess the damage on the island. Along with approximately 120 fellow volunteers and members of New York City's fire disaster response unit, they were among the initial wave of outside support to arrive on scene. 
"Seeing the images on television back in Connecticut couldn't prepare us for the full scope of the damage," Findley said. “Even landing in San Juan, the realization of the extent of the devastation wasn’t clear. When we got outside the city, we really got to see that the residents of that island literally went through 24 of hours of hell," he added.
Click here for press reporting on the conditions in Puerto Rico as witnessed by other volunteer union members.
Still, what surprised Findley most about his 22 days of volunteer service in Puerto Rico was the resilience of the people to move on, despite the slow pace of recovery.
"The first week that I was there, we saw spray-painted signs pledging to rebuild,” he said. “The people never wanted to abandon their homes — it's just a matter of having the ability to rebuild," he added.
Click here to watch Findley share more on both his public service career and commitment to volunteerism.
Findley's efforts in Puerto Rico epitomize the important role that the Red Cross and other community-based organizations play in saving lives when catastrophe strikes. While not everyone needs to devote three weeks to serving in a disaster zone, all can answer the call to volunteer in a number of ways, large and small.
The Red Cross' annual campaign to recognize the contributions of blood and platelet donors — and encourage others to roll up a sleeve and give — is one such example. National Blood Donor Month seeks to inspire volunteers to "make life saving a habit" and help fulfill the organization's year-round mission whenever and wherever the need arises.
Click here to learn more about the annual recognition and promotional campaign.