Ten Who Made a Difference: Jon Lasham

Benjamin Franklin famously coined the phrase, “The only sure things in life are death and taxes,” but may not have had he met Jon Lasham, 67.

The longtime Gillette resident was in a car crash 18 years ago that left him “totally disabled.” But he soon found a way to not only make himself useful, but serve a vital role in his community.

“I had whiplash of the knees,” Lasham said. “It pulls out all the tendons and blood vessels. (Doctors) were trying to decide if they should (take) my legs or try to save them.”

Lasham was in intensive care for 10 days and the hospital for six weeks. His wife and son also were hurt in the crash, but returned home much sooner than he.

When they did, Gillette came together to help a family in need.

“The community pretty much moved in and took care of everybody. That was pretty awesome,” Lasham said.

Returning to work in the area’s coal mines was no longer an option for Lasham, so he took inspiration from everyone who helped his family in hard times. He volunteered to help the local Hospice and English as a Second Language programs.

But the one that stuck was working with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistants.

He joined the program, which is run by the IRS, as a volunteer in 2002. His goal was to “pay back and be part of the community.”

And in the 18 years since, the only sure things in life around northeast Wyoming are death, taxes and that Lasham will be there to help people with their taxes.

Lasham now runs the VITA program in Gillette, helping people with their taxes out of the Campbell County Public Library, the Senior Center and the library in Newcastle.

He has five volunteers who work with him at the Senior Center and three or four at the Campbell County Public Library — all of whom are trained and certified by the IRS. They assist people of all ages, mostly seniors and many first-time tax filers at the library.

The process is reasonably simple. Lasham asks his clients to fill out an interview sheet with personal information, he takes the tax material from them and then “I sit down and do the taxes.”

“It’s pretty painless,” Lasham said. “I’m not doing anything overly hard.”

What scares people the most about taxes is just not being sure if they’re doing them right, Lasham said. They don’t want a letter from the IRS, so they take comfort in VITA’s assurance that it gets done right.

On average, the VITA group in Gillette files taxes for about 500 people per year, while the state of Wyoming deals with about 4,500.

Lasham has continued to find motivation to keep volunteering — saving seniors and others on a fixed income the $100 to $200 it would take for them to have a professional do their taxes. It also helps families and youth who could benefit from better income credit or filing status.

“Those are the ones that make me happy. Those people really need my help, because they quit going in because it cost $200 to talk to anyone,” Lasham said.

There also are some sad occasions.

Lasham has been doing volunteer tax preparation long enough that some of his repeat clients have lost a spouse and need to come in to review their tax situation.

Many of them don’t have anyone to talk to after the death, so Lasham often sits with them and talks for an hour or more about life.

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