By profession, Leo Gabriel is professor of accounting and taxation at Bethel University but his mission in life and the lessons he teaches extend far beyond the classroom.
“A lot of people see accounting as just numbers but it’s more than that. Accounting can be a way to move justice forward. I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t.”
Leo was drawn into the field of accounting and taxation due to the inequities in the system—it’s one that does not favor low-income families.
“The tax system in this country requires an adjustment—there is a gap. Wealthy individuals can buy tax services to help them minimize their tax burden and plan for the future. For those who can’t afford it, Prepare + Prosper fills that gap.”
Leo is a volunteer tax reviewer, Board member, and his students are required to volunteer at Prepare + Prosper. He has extensive knowledge of and passion for taxation—something not many can say. As he puts it, the field has enabled him to bring together all things important to him: love for doing taxes, concern for others, examining knowledge, and creating solutions.
Since 2000, Leo’s students have been volunteering alongside him. While Leo reviews returns for accuracy at the tax clinics, his students volunteer as tax preparers. He requires they all keep a journal of their experiences, sharing stories, distilling lessons, and reflecting on learnings. Many of his students come from upper middle-class backgrounds, so the experience is just as much about practical application of tax law as it is learning about privilege, culture, inclusion, and respect for others and their decisions.
“Every year I return to volunteer with Prepare + Prosper, I learn something new about myself in relation to others. And that’s what I expect from my students, too. This work is about bringing people together and building community. It’s grounded in respect for one another and decisions people make for themselves. It’s about empowerment and trust.”
Leo is a man of faith who believes in justice and service. By nature he challenges systems and the status quo.
“In doing this work, I have met amazing people doing extraordinary things with very limited resources. I have learned so much about them, about life, and about myself. It’s an important part of my journey.”