The Faces in the Numbers

A tax return can tell a story. Within the numerals, Dave Arrington, can see the tale, and through his volunteerism, hopes to find a happy ending.

Dave Arrington just has to look up a phone number twice. And then he’ll remember it. Forever. Numbers he can do no problem. In fact he finds great joy in navigating complex systems and unlocking the secrets that numbers hold. A former CPA, database manager and an auditor, Arrington has spent his entire professional life neck-deep in integers and decimal points.

But names? Faces? That’s trickier.

“I’m an introvert,” he says. “I don’t put myself out there very often.”

Arrington is a certified tax preparer for the volunteer income tax assistance program (VITA), an initiative powered by United Way of the Greater Seacoast in association with Bank of New Hampshire, Northeast Credit Union and Rockingham Community Action. The statewide VITA effort is underwritten by Citizens Bank Foundation. Last year, VITA returned over $1.3 million to nearly 950 clients, all of which happened through the donation of time and expertise from tax specialists like Arrington.

This volunteerism is seldom lost on the people he helps. He notes the frequency of clients he runs into while out and about, saying hi and offering their thanks.

“Their reaction shows me that they find my service so worthwhile that it’s easy to remember who you are,” he says, before adding, sheepishly, that the names elude him most of the time.

Arrington works out of the VITA site at Northeast Credit Union in Portsmouth.

“Northeast Credit Union is proud to support the work of the VITA program,” said Peter Kavalauskas, former President and CEO of Northeast Credit Union. “[Last] year mark[ed] our seventh year as a host site for the VITA program and we’re excited to continue to be a part of this innovative community partnership. The VITA program helps many members of the local community save their hard-earned money while also helping them to build stronger financial futures. These goals are synonymous with Northeast Credit Union’s mission.”

Beyond the enjoyment of digging through the numbers and the labyrinthine federal code, Arrington enjoys tracking his clients year-to-year, reading the stories the tax returns tell. A new house? A new job? A bigger family? It’s all there in black and white, laid bare.

“A tax return is like looking at a year in someone’s life,” he says. “It can be a vulnerable experience.”

For him, imparting the importance of saving for the future is paramount. After securing the maximum tax return–often through the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit–Arrington hammers home the need to set money aside for the future.

“Everyone has a rainy day,” he says. “I make sure to tell people that there is more than today to think about.”

Rainy day economics, a value shared by United Way of the Greater Seacoast. Family Financial Stability is a primary focus issue area, and VITA is one of the most powerful initiatives to promote long-term fiscal well-being.

It is important work and Dave Arrington knows it. He sees it in the faces of the people he serves. As he speaks about this very thing, he says hello to a family of four that have just arrived to have their taxes done. He’s prepared their returns before. He can’t quite summon their names.

But he knows them well.