Final thoughts, Randy (North Carolina) “Thank you”

November 24, 2008

Before too much time passes since we all were in New Orleans and working with the NCACPA and Operation Hope, I wanted to be sure that I recorded some of my thoughts about the week together and the process.  Even though I was one of the older and experienced CPAs, I felt some of the same uncertainty and nervousness that the young CPAs and candidates were feeling as we headed into the week.  I am very very impressed with the quality of the professionals that we took with us to New Orleans.  I am impressed in that they made the commitment to go and take a week away from work, and exhibited so much professionalism when dealing with the clients.  Everyone, and I know of no exception, wanted to do something for the clients we met with.  We felt it was our duty to give them each a good service, and hope they would go away with some information that would help them with their small business.  As Tom had indicated to us, we did have some impact on approximately 85-90 individuals or businesses.  What I noticed was that every one of us wanted to work with a client and help solve their problem, or address their concern, and we felt bad when we could not send them away with all of the solutions.  You each showed me such maturity and professionalism that I know you will be successful in your careers.  And it is also obvious that you all have your priorities and your hearts in the right place and you will make this a better place.

 

What should also be obvious to New Orleans is that as a group we helped considerably to stimulate the local economy.  With all the food and drinks and souvenirs, I think New Orleans will be well on its way to recovery.  It was great how we all got together that Sunday night and from then on we all just seemed to get along quite well.  We were close (literally in the van) all week, and there were just no problems and everyone had just a great attitude.  I found myself missing you all over the weekend because we were together so much.

 

I want to thank those responsible for setting up the Shutterfly site and those who downloaded pictures.  The pictures are great and I have looked at all of them and some of them more than once.  I hope they stay there for a while.  Also, special thanks to Geoff, Kristin and Charlotte for keeping the blog with pictures and with more detailed information about our daily work.  I started to say daily rountine, but we learned we did not have a routine, and we learned to be non-linear. 

 

I especially want to thank Tom, and Tom can thank Oliver and the others, but Tom has created this project, and I want him to know that it was worthwhile in so many ways.  The first, and most obvious, is that we helped people with our acquired skills that they could not have afforded otherwise.  We contributed time that we usually get paid for.  You have now learned that you have a skill set that can assist others, and help them in a way that they may be able to take care of themselves and others.  We all got to meet new people in our profession in different stages of their careers, and from different parts of the country.  Each of us can take a feeling of pride back to our work and social communities and possibly influence others to give of their time.  Tom, you also provided an opportunity for many of us to gain confidence in our abilities, and to interact with clients.  Hopefully, we will get the chance to be together again. 

 

Thanks again for the experience and keep in touch.

 
 
Randy Whitt

Final thoughts, Rick (North Carolina) “Talents”

November 24, 2008

Randy said so well what I had thought and my impressions of our group. As Tom said we are drawn together with two common bonds, our profession and our desire to help. With that commonality we seemed to meld from the first meeting and grow in our enjoyment of our mission and each other. I too liked the mix of the Seasoned with energy of the Young. I know that Walter said that the team make up was very successful in helping his clients.

Now if I can talk about me for a moment. Sunday when I went to church the sermon was the Parable about the use of Talents. Of course in Biblical times the talents referenced were coins. In our time that translates easily to our talents and abilities given to us. As I listened my mind went back to the wonderful people we met and tried to help. How they never complained about their situation, never asked what can you give me, only can you help me as I try to improve myself. Then I thought of the town of Houma who was physically and mentally recovering from the likes of Gustavo and Ike. And how accommodating the people were to us. And then I thought of the young man who drove the hotel van to the airport. And how he shared with me the horrors he went through to leave New Orleans and drive all night in his tired and worn mind to Houston only to pass by it and end up 2 hours away in Texas City, Texas. That is where he stopped and placed his family. I asked if he used the Red Cross and similar services. He said he did not as the lines were 1500-2000 people long and how he could not stand in line hours on end, he needed to find a job instead to support his family. Three months later he came back home. Never once was he complaining. And then, in closing the service, we sang a song called “Here I am Lord” which is about surrendering to the call to help those in need and serve the Lord. My friends, I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried in my adult life. I stood there in church and I cried. To have had the opportunity to serve my neighbor in need, to have served with my fellow professionals, and to have done so with such joy and fun is an event I will never forget.

Thanks to all of you, thanks to Tom, thanks to Walter and Rita and Operation Hope and thanks to my fellow workers, I have walked away a better man. And Yes I would go back tomorrow if I could.

You are a special group and I will never forget you.

Rick

Final Thoughts-Jim (North Carolina), “Pay Forward”

November 24, 2008

I have seen all the pictures posted on the website, read the daily blogs posted at MSCPA by our compatriots from Massachusetts, and read the emails from Randy, Rick, James, and others.  The key words that come to my mind about this entire experience are: inspiring and humbling.

 
Believe it or not, I had as much trepidation about going on this trip as many of you have eloquently expressed in blogs and emails.  My career path has been so focused on tax issues the past twenty-plus years that I wasn’t sure what I could tell our clients in Louisiana about how to develop business plans, run their businesses better, or straighten out their records with Quickbooks.  What I leave with after our week together is an affirmation of something that I have always known but rarely have a chance to experience first hand.  Namely, I don’t have to know everything myself and be all things to all people, I just have to know someone who knows the things I don’t.  I was awed by the breadth and depth of the expertise of our entire team.  That is inspiring and humbling at the same time.  It was truly a team effort by everyone.
 
Likewise, the dedication and perseverance of our Louisiana clients was enlightening and inspiring.  My expectations were dashed with every client meeting.  I expected to hear lots of doom and gloom stories all week and pledged to myself to be compassionate, lend a kind ear, and help where I could.  I never heard one single client whine.  Not one.  All they wanted to do is look at the future and get their lives back better than ever as soon as possible.  Everyone I met was fired up and raring to get on with business.  Such optimism was inspiring and h umbling for me . 
 
For the past twenty-plus years my primary business has been continuing professional education.  Since I retired from that business in January I have come to realize that teaching is who I am, not what I do.  When Tom called me about this project early this spring, I saw it as a natural extension of who I am and an opportunity to do what I love most – teach.  Whether you realize it or not, you are the same as me – every day.  You are all here because you are ‘givers’ and give to your clients daily.  You may sell time and expertise; but you give your best to your clients.  You want them to succeed, you take pride in helping their businesses grow or you would not have signed up for this project.  You are and always will be givers.
 
I read Rick Dupree’s email about ‘talents’ and his understanding of the lesson in the parable last Sunday at his church.  The same parable on talents was also the serm on in our church last Sunday.  The message I left with is that you should not bury or hide your talents.  They are meant to be invested and that you must trust in the talents you possess.  How prophetic and inspiring this sermon would have been for us all – just one week earlier.  How awesome to hear it with my own ears on the Sunday after our return.
 
We all volunteered to share our talents last week.  We knew that going in.  What I learned, and I believe you will all agree, is we all left town with more talents than we arrived.  We lived the lesson of the parable – our talents multiplied.
Several years ago I decided to do something to payback to the CPA profession that h as provided me with a wonderful and rewarding life.  The more I thought about it, it became clear that I didn’t want to pay Back, I really wanted to pay Forward.  Pay Forward to the next generation of CPAs.  Pay Forward to the community.  What better project to accomplish both objectives than to volunteer last week.  I am truly honored20to know each of you and to have shared the experience of last week.
 
The absolute easiest part of last week was the afternoon client meetings.  I cannot say thank you enough to Tom, Oliver, Bill, Rita and everyone at Operation Hope for all the planning and advance preparation that made our jobs so much easier and so much fun.  I have learned to love non-linear.
 
What brought us together, binds us together.  Tom told us that, but I didn’t b elieve him until it happened.
Warmest personal regards to my new friends.
Jim McCoy

Day 6-Final Thoughts Kristin

November 24, 2008

Overall this has been an amazing experience.  I want to especially thank Tom Pender for his dedication to the project and Oliver Bell from Operation Hope.  This is the one year anniversary of the project.  Collectively we have accomplished the following:

 

        4 trips

        17 work days

        50 volunteers (from 8 states)

        450 client interactions

        $500,000 of volunteer time

(Extracted from Tom Pender)

 

It became more evident that these businesses need our help and we need to reach out to them as a profession.  Our knowledge should not be reserved for our highest paying clients.  I believe that we represent a profession and we have a duty to the public.  We must be aware that there is an opportunity to use our skills in a volunteer setting.  Tom’s mission was to use his professional skills to help an economy in need.  While I do think that New Orleans is an economy in need, I also believe that we may be able to identify an area in greater need as this city in many respects has recovered or at a minimum is on track.  There is a place for financial literacy in our home, Boston, and now it is evident there is a need for financial literacy across the nation.  The greed on Wall Street, the mortgage lending crisis, and the now suffering automobile industry all point to that need.  What is ever so clear is that it is time to get back to the basics.  Start reinventing the wheel.  Start saving.  Come up with new ideas that add value.  Stop making cars, that don’t do the environment or consumers any good.  Stop living beyond our means.  Stop the selfishness and gambling.  Reinvent yourself, much like the city of New Orleans, to create opportunity and change.

Day 5-Kristin

November 24, 2008

The group ventured outside of the city today to Houma.  Houma is community about an hour and a half outside of New Orleans.  See the following link for additional information on the region:  http://www.houmachamber.com/local_info-industry.php.  We spent the day in Houma in a large auditorium where we serviced our clients.  The environment was something that I expected for the entire trip.  The truth is the first few days were at a location much nicer than I was anticipating.  At any rate, the service was the same, the needs were the same.  For me the day was a little slow, but that was okay I could see the progress my peers were making.  It seemed maybe we all had a day that we felt more useful than others.  That is just the way volunteer work goes.  You can’t really anticipate who is going to show up.  Without the internet, we were all forced to interact a bit more and really come together as a team.  Interacting with the team made the day fly by.  In the evening we visited a local restaurant in Houma.  They made us feel at home as the band announced our team and one of our teammates went up on stage to play the washboard.  It was entertaining.  Since it was the last night in New Orleans for many of us, we headed out to Bourban Street.  What trip would not be complete without a Hurricane from Pat Obrien’s? It was a treat. 

Team Building

Team Building

 

Geoff – Final Thoughts

November 22, 2008

Friday was a long day for me which is kind of strange to say considering how much we all pushed ourselves this week.  We took the morning and walked around the French Quarter again to the market and small shops to buy souvenirs of our trip.  The rain started to swing off those iron balconies that line the streets and we knew our work in New Orleans was done.  We had an informal lunch and said our goodbyes.  The sun popped through again like a message from the city; its final communication that there will always be a warm place for us there.  Each of us went our separate ways by mid afternoon.  We had an unexpectedly large travel party making a late trip to Atlanta.  Some of us with our luggage and others without.  Hopefully there’s a nice pair of shrimp boots on their way to Indianapolis.  Charlotte and the Todds (I know you thought you had seen the last of them in 1987 playing alongside the Pixies at the Paradise, but everybody’s on the comeback trail these days) were sticking around to do some work with Habitat for Humanity.  Hopefully, for their sake, the rain was in my suitcase – I was supposed to go to Florida.  I didn’t expect to celebrate my 30th birthday bouncing around the skies somewhere over Maryland on my way back to Massachusetts, but that’s life.

 

As a wise man from North Carolina once said, we had a lot of firsts on this trip.  We’ve all got a taste of how we can use our talents to help the world become more financially literate and there are opportunities in every town.  Operation Hope is going to move on to South Africa where they hope to teach a million people about financial literacy.  Obviously that’s a bold program that’s hard to even conceive.  Let’s start locally.  A lot of people tell me that I shouldn’t buy this product because it’s made abroad or I should boycott this business because it’s bad for the environment – these actions don’t make a lasting change.  Helping the little guy start his own business that will one day compete having developed a better product will engender the changes we’re all looking for.   

 

I want to thank the other four folks from Massachusetts who are all significantly awesome.  I had a chance to meet with people from all over the Eastern half of the country and trade ideas and good times.  In my mind, our team was an absolutely perfect mix of people.  This trip takes an open mind, but when we all leave those minds open the synergies that it allows are fantastic.  That’s not always easy in our industry.  We as individuals will see it, the firms that sent their people down will see it, and I think the local communities will find benefit too.  Thanks to Tom Pender from North Carolina for being everything on this trip so that the team could focus on just helping people.  Oliver Bell and his team at Operation Hope were brilliant as well.

 

Here in Massachusetts we always talk about the blizzard of ’78, how it created a sea change in the way that we have to work together during tough times.  On a greater scale, obviously, was the lapping devastation caused by the hurricanes in Louisiana.  As we sit here in an economic slump, let’s never spend time trying to gauge or define what is a difficult time.  When the opportunity comes let’s just work together.  Good things happen.  

Day 4 – Charlotte

November 18, 2008

The fourth day started with a presentation from an Economics professor from the University of New Orleans. It was extremely interesting and insightful to see not only her analysis of the economy of the country as a whole but her comparison to the city. One of the most notable statistics was the decrease (down to 60% pre-Katrina) in school age children. This is causing a lot of schools to close and the system to provide less services to those that remain. The overall outlook was that the city is rebuilding but still has a long way to go and additional setbacks such as hurricanes Ike and Gustav have slowed the process.

Economist

Economist

After lunch, we had a busy day of meeting clients. Rick (from NC) & I met with a woman who had bought a property to rent for functions. She had a few questions about filing sales taxes and didn’t realize that the tax could be passed through to the customer. Since New Orleans and Lousiana sales tax for rentals is a combined 9% it certainly helped her to know this. She wanted to know about the GO ZONE provisions as well. We also talked with her about expanding her network to cross market with wedding planners, JPs, caterers etc. Rick was great at coming up with ideas and she certainly appreciated our input. We got a chance to look at her website… the place looks very nice and airy. She had a great head on her shoulders; she used to be a nurse and a pharmaceutical rep. We could tell that her business was well thought out, so she is sure to succeed.

After meeting with clients, we went out to dinner in the gorgeous garden district with beautiful historic homes. Several among us tried turtle soup per Oliver Bell’s (of Operation Hope) suggestion. After dinner, we went back towards the hotel and went out on the town in Metairie. It was a fun night of firsts including karaoke singing.

Dinner Wednesday

Dinner Wednesday

Day 4, Wednesday (clients!) Kristin

November 17, 2008

This morning an economist gave a very interesting presentation on the local economy and how it compares to the national economy.  In summary the city’s economic development is still only about 90% of what it was before Katrina.  Also the makeup of industries producing the greatest of number of jobs has changed.  There are increases in engineering and construction for obvious reasons.  We also learned that once Katrina hit, many young professionals (especially those with school aged children) left the city.  The economist continued to paint the grim picture of the national economy.  Overall economic development in New Orleans is not as great as pre Katrina, rather still on the road to recovery and that is where we come in.

 

Today was significant because we were able to reach the greatest number of clients.  I worked with 5 clients in various capacities.  One client wanted to understand the taxability of a grant.  It took 4 CPA’s to figure it out, but we all learned something.  Another individual wanted us to review a business plan and provide advice on entity selection.  The advice we were able to provide was great because of the depth and variety of experiences of the people in the room. 

 

We went to dinner in the Garden district.  There were many beautiful homes and nice restaurants. The food was good.  The evening concluded with a visit to a local bar.  We later learned this was not exactly the type of place the locals would recommend for a bunch of CPA’s.  It was very interesting to say the least.

Geoff – Thursday Comes Fast

November 15, 2008

Houma, Louisiana is one of those beautiful American boomtowns that has the value of a single paperclip to 99.9% of the world, but tightly holds the Terrabonne Parish together both culturally and economically.  They set up our headquarters in the Municipal Center which, if we got bored, would allow us to host a rockin’ high school dance.  While the accoutrements weren’t quite the level of our stay at University of Phoenix, we’re professionals – we embrace these metal folding chairs and beat up bingo tables.  Perhaps the facilities manager was surprised to hear us ask to turn the A/C off, but we felt that with the doors open to the beautiful weather outside our focus might start to climb trees or poke around the incinerator chimney at the coroner’s office next door.

 

As it was there were a lot of chairs dancing on the concrete just outside the hall.  There could be a bit of downtime at certain points, but our accountant culture has handed down stories of crazy clients for generations.  We had a few including what we saw this week that even made the guys smoking butts outside the coroner’s office shake their heads and say “Man, that’s some weird stuff.”  We were able to work with a great lady named Katherine, who was a local and could provide some great grip in local concerns that we didn’t have exposure to.  This is a community in the Cajun South of Louisiana built on the oil and fishing industries, but we saw plenty of small businesses that might work in your hometown too who just needed a little push.  In between walks around town, talking to the locals about shrimp boot fashion accessorizing and laughs, we far exceeded the weekly total of the previous teams.  We hoped to help more folks in Houma, but all in all we did pretty well.

 

The night’s entertainment started right in Houma where they had us at the Ramada Inn restaurant for some Cajun food and Zydeco sounds.  The food was great seems to be a tired refrain, but hey, who am I to embellish?  I’m happy to report that we outlasted the AHA doctors in New Orleans and we had our run of the town Thursday evening.    

Wednesday – Geoff’s Economics Lesson

November 15, 2008

Sleep is kinda good.  While I’ve spent some tax seasons on low doses, I don’t mind accidentally getting eight hours.  The alchemy of fried food, superb caffeination, and lack of Z’s may sound familiar to you, but you haven’t done it such a grand manner.  This morning Janet Speyrer, economics maven, took us on a guided tour of the numbers.  She receives an honorary Making Economics Much More Interesting than Oatmeal lifetime achievement award.  It was concise and striking to think about how everything that we’ve seen from boarded up houses to street performances to Walmart has a place in this economic environment.  The question is really how the government interacts with its people.  Does a structured business environment bring people back or do people bring the businesses back? 

 

We had a most productive afternoon of meetings.  I was able to work with two more fellow CPAs, both from North Carolina, who were great teammates for the clients that we were working with.  I was much busier today and I loved it.  I’ve been amazed at how passionate the people down here are about their business babies.  They’ve been so grateful.  Kristin wondered aloud why this program isn’t available in more cities.  Imagine a world where people understand their financial choices and opportunities.  It could eliminate so much economic drag.

 

When we closed up shop on Wednesday we had performed well at our location in Metairie.  There are people who sign up for the services who don’t show up, but these spots are generally filled by folks who just come by after work.

 

We celebrated our successes in a great restaurant called Cannon’s Restaurant of New Orleans on St. Charles next to those beautiful, old plantation homes.  As you look out the enormous windows you could see the streetcars come up and down the road as they’ve done for decades.  After dinner we decided, with an early start looming on Thursday, that we should stick close to the hotel in Metairie.  I think we did a fine job of providing economic stimulus to under-represented niche businesses.  The opportunities for team building after hours seem to really help us increase our productivity and fun during session hours.


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