Rachel knows what she’s good at. During those formative years when most children are dreaming about being a firefighter or doctor, Rachel spent her playtime with a cash register, dreaming of counting money when she grew up.
“It just made sense to me. I always knew that I would go into accounting.”
By no means the typical child, Rachel has her parents to thank for instilling fine social sensibilities in addition to her education in numbers. Rachel’s father was Chinese, was raised by a foster family, and encountered moments of racism in his upbringing. He was a gentle, humble man, who put himself through dental school and wanted his children to understand the meaning of hard work. Although Rachel’s parents had the means to live other places, they purposefully chose to stay in Minneapolis and send their children to public school. Here, their children could have experiences with different races, ethnicities, and economic circumstances.
“I always had friends of different colors, ethnicities, economic statuses. I never really thought about it growing up, it was just normal.”
That sense of normalcy shifted when Rachel started college at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD). During those bustling first few weeks when freshmen are getting to know one another, Rachel was referred to as “the Asian girl,” which was not previously a useful identifier at Minneapolis public schools.
“Starting school at UMD is the first time I thought about my different upbringing and realized how differently I had grown up than most Minnesotans. I started to be aware that there’s a whole other world out there and people can choose to stay in those bubbles or get outside of them.”
After college, Rachel spent seven years as a CPA, specializing in individual and corporate income taxes before transitioning to a job with a private healthcare organization. She knows how important her tax preparation skills are and how important is it to ‘get outside the bubble’ and help people.
“I spent seven years becoming an expert in tax preparation. I didn’t want to lose those skills after taking my new job, so I found a way to keep them and use them in a way that’s purposeful and helpful to someone else.”
Rachel keeps up her skills as a self-employment volunteer with Prepare + Prosper (P+P). She knew it would be a good fit because it allowed her to apply her experience to some more interesting and challenging tax situations. As a CPA, it was important for Rachel to know she had the support of other qualified accountants behind her, to ensure things would go smoothly.
"I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into, but there was comfort in the fact that Prepare + Prosper is an established program. There’s obviously a lot of education and a lot of intention behind everything, with a ton of really great, qualified people to work with. I knew this was something that I could get involved with, that I should get involved with.”
The rewards of volunteering have been in the connections she’s made and the thanks she gets from customers.
“People come in, you can read the tension and stress--it's physical. You can see the weight lifted off their shoulders. Being able to give that to someone, it's rewarding.”
Rachel is happy to share her skill to help people, but many of the rewards have been more personal for her. Diversity is one of the pieces Rachel likes about volunteering at P+P. Hearing the different languages, the different stories, the ways immigrants are making it in the US—reminds her of the connection we all share.
“We're soaked in people who are like us and that gives us a tendency to judge others. When you have experience with people not like you, it reminds you that they are like you. It's a good reminder for me that we have more similarities than we do differences.”
Rachel knows how important it is to get outside her bubble. She is amazed by how the network of volunteer and staff bridges the gap between knowledge, generations, and backgrounds.
“You deal with situations that aren't so comfortable and are able to succeed in those—they aren't so scary.”
Volunteering gives her confidence in her ability to meet new people and do new things, and that keeps her coming back.
"Every time you talk to someone you learn something from them. You pick pieces up and take them with you. It helps you have a better understanding of human nature. We realize that we have things in common, we can learn from each other, and we can be friends.”