Doing taxes, raising veggies for the less fortunate

Barbara Hootman

Jim Carillon is passionate about helping those less fortunate in communities where he lives and works. He volunteers enough hours weekly in Black Mountain and Fairview to classify volunteering as a full-time job.

Jim and his wife Aline moved from Akron, Ohio to Western North Carolina in 1999 and started their own business, a bed and breakfast.

“We bought a plumber’s house in the woods and called it Inn on Mill’s Creek,” Carillon said. “We created a family-friendly bed and breakfast and had no experience in the business before we started. Both Aline and I were corporate consultants in Ohio. We sold the inn in 2007. It was like the Peace Corp - the hardest job you will ever love. We just about worked ourselves to the bone. It had seven guest bedrooms, sat on seven acres with an apple orchard of 200 trees, including apricot and pear trees.

“When we sold the inn in 2007, we made enough money to become semi-retired. I began to volunteer with the organizations that enabled me to help low-income families. Aline became a part-time music director at The Learning Community.”

Carillon’s first volunteering venture was with On Track Consumer Credit Counseling Agency in Asheville, preparing taxes for low-income families. In 2008 he volunteered with the agency from January through April, running the tax program with four other volunteers. At the end of April, he became a paid credit counselor and housing counselor for the agency. Then the agency had to cut back on employees, and he asked to return to a volunteer position.

“I spent from 20-40 hours per week volunteering when I was at On Track Consumer Credit Counseling Agency, depending on the demand from clients and where we were in the season,” he said. “When I left On Track, I went with Pisgah Legal Services (an Asheville-based advocacy organization for low-income people), volunteering as a ‘navigator’ for the Affordable Care Act. It was a position that could help low-income families change the quality of their lives.”

He passed 16 tests to get the position, where he clients determine if they had enough tax credits to pay for the insurance. He helped them decide which health care policy was best for them. “I even counseled them on how to select a doctor for their family,” he said.

“It is important for low income families to understand how insurance and tax credits work for them,” Carillon said. “I don’t think the public understands that volunteers with Pisgah Legal are well-educated, with 30-40 hours of computer training. I wound up training the navigators by being the coordinator for navigators for four months. During the busy tax season there would be as many as 50 navigators working. Unfortunately that position took me away from the hands-on work with the low-income families.”

Carillon believes volunteer work he does keeps him mentally sharp.

“I also volunteer with AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) doing tax preparation for those retired and on fixed income,” he said. “AARP needed a local coordinator. I have a team of five volunteers, with one new person this year. The others are veteran volunteers. We meet at the Black Mountain Library to prepare taxes. By serving the low-income families, I know I am saving them hundreds of dollars.”

Taxes and insurance get Carillon’s attention during the fall and winter months. When the weather turns warm enough to garden, he volunteers every week with God’s Little Acre in Fairview.

“We grow the whole community through our work for the low-income families at God’s Little Acre,” Carillon said. “Our director, Susan Sides, nurtures people and vegetables. We also raise the funds yearly to keep the project going. We have just purchased six more acres to grow food, and we sponsor other gardens in the area to do the same. I enjoy working in the garden and in serving on the board of directors. Every Thursday we have a Welcome Table to share the harvest.”

He volunteers at his church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley in Black Mountain. He mows the grass and coordinates a list of other volunteers who mow. He donates blood every eight weeks to the American Red Cross.

“I lost a brother to AIDS, and it helps me remember him through blood donations - plus (donating blood) is crucial to other people,” he said. “I volunteer rather than just give money, because money is less satisfying to me than immersing myself in a project to help others.

“I’m not a wealthy person, but I retired earlier than some people, so I have the time to give of myself. I chose to stay active after I semi-retired, and volunteering suits me. It helps to build community, and it helps me to serve my neighbor. In the end, volunteering helps empower people to help each other.

“I’ve always been a hard worker. The volunteer work keeps me young and in touch with people who are different from me. I certainly get more out of it than those I serve.”