by Asset Building Coach Marcail Distante
Rick Adams came to San Francisco in 1988. He got his MBA at the University of San Francisco, and after making the most of an annual ski pass at Squaw Valley, ventured down a new pathway as a consultant.
He started a successful consulting business and moved up and down the Peninsula, working mostly with medical staff, construction workers, bakery founders and food industry professionals. His goal? Simple. He wanted the companies’ customers to feel happy and taken care of through increased workplace efficiency and customer-centric services.
In one doctor’s office, Rick worked with his clients to create a responsibilities chart between medical assistants, mid-level practitioners and doctors. As a result, doctors were able to spend more quality time with patients, patient wait-time went down and patient experience greatly improved overall
Hoping to bring more happy customers into the food industry, he connected with local restaurants and grocers, such as Bi-Rite market.
He soon found himself surrounded by Spanish-speakers, so Rick sought out classes to help him connect with his new team members. After several years of classes and practicing in the workplace, Rick became an avid Spanish conversationalist with a desire to give back to the community.
In 2018, feeling he had made a large impact in transforming industries full of happy customers, Rick decided to give up consulting and took the plunge into retirement. With more free time, he could finally focus on his family, plus get back into competitive bike-riding; however, after a career filled with responsibilities, teamwork and different projects, Rick longed for some structure.
With his values of customer service and knowledge of Spanish in mind, Rick set out to find an opportunity where he could harness them both. With a quick Google search, he came across MEDA’s VITA free tax preparation program.
Though he had experience with finance and accounting throughout his career, Rick felt nervous when he first started meeting with clients to prepare their taxes because he wasn’t familiar with the routine. He started this new tax journey by sitting down with his first clients, reviewing their intakes and inputting their W-2 information into an automated system that calculated their refund, but after a few sessions he learned that there was a support system in place to ensure he felt comfortable. Rick reflects, “I realized, ‘What’s the worst that I can do? If I make an error in the return, someone is always going to check it over.’” He found solace in the program’s “quality review” requirement, which makes sure that experienced tax preparers review each and every return to ensure the forms are ready for submission.
As a routine enthusiast, and always seeking ways to make clients happy, he soon developed his own flow in free tax preparation sessions. “The most important thing is to get to know them a little bit. Ask them how they’re doing. Sometimes folks are nervous because they’re not familiar with the tax system, so I just get them to smile, relax and feel comfortable,” explains Rick of his client service.
Leveraging his 40+ years of work experience, Rick understands that building a relationship with clients is critical in ensuring they come back to any medical office, restaurant or organization. So only after he establishes a safe space for clients does he jump into tax questions, and then point out changes on the screen to help clients’ understand the process.
“For a lot of folks, this is the first experience they have with MEDA. And, in my experience, if they don’t leave feeling happy, they’re not going to come back in through the doors of Plaza Adelante. It’s not just about doing taxes — it’s about making sure folks have a safe space that they can go back to so that they feel secure every time they come to MEDA.”
In addition to preparing their taxes for free, Rick’s customer-centric values have helped hundreds of clients get connected to MEDA’s other services including affordable-housing, workforce development, financial coaching and more.
For Rick, a commitment that first started as a couple days a week turned into a regular part of his weekly routine and satisfied the hunger for purpose he felt after retiring. During the 2018 tax season, he volunteered three to five times a week for four to six hours a shift. In addition to finding the structure for which he was looking, Rick prepared 72 tax returns offering about $144,000 back to Mission low-income community.
Enjoying the friendships he made with staff and the connections he felt with clients, after tax season Rick sought out additional ways to volunteer throughout the year. On Mondays, he helps alleviate pressure on the tax team by volunteering to prepare taxes, and on Wednesdays he joins the Housing Opportunities team to help clients submit applications for below-market-rate (BMR) affordable rental units.
States Rick, “It’s nice to walk in the door and have people know me. I’m not a stranger. It’s very rewarding to have a sense of structure and to engage with the community in the Mission. Taxes is just one way to open the door into involvement in the community.”
From a consultant to a tax preparer to a housing opportunities mentor, Rick is a friendly face in the MEDA office for both staff and clients. In addition to using his lifetime of experience to improve client experience and support MEDA staff, he’s also a great person to go to for advice on biking and outdoor adventures.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch Rick locking up his bike downstairs ready to tell you a new story before heading up the stairs to to prepare a client’s taxes.
Would you like to join MEDA’s tax volunteers to create impact, as you get to know your community?
Please contact Asset Building Coach Marcail Distante: (415) 282-3334 ext. 132; firstname.lastname@example.org.