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Challenges of New Hispanic Immigrants Are Target of Virginia Firm's Initiative

A Virginia-based tax-preparation company is well into its second year of an initiative to provide wide-ranging assistance inside and outside the workplace to recent Hispanic immigrants.

But Liberty Tax Service is still much closer to the beginning of its effort than to the end.

Liberty likes to point out that there’s a major difference between a company's launching a marketing program and a company's implementing a grass-roots initiative that will leave lasting results on a community.

“I have nothing against marketing programs. That’s how I made my career,” says Martee Pierson, Liberty's director of diversity marketing. “But they have a shelf life. As an initiative, this is organic, something that will grow and constantly provide something.

“The difference between the two is with an initiative we give first, and we know we will receive a return eventually,” she says.

For more than 18 months, the retail tax-preparation company has been promoting its Hispanic Initiative, “Una Familia Sin Fronteras (A Family Without Boundaries).”

The multifaceted initiative promotes diversity in the workplace and oversees cultural training programs, but more importantly provides free educational services to help members of the Hispanic community understand their fiscal responsibility in their new homeland.

“I’m not buying into anything,” says Pierson, a Spanish-speaking Louisiana native who was raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “This initiative was written for Latinas by Latinas.”

Pierson points to a part of the initiative that helps recent immigrants become familiar with the mores governing U.S. housing. For example, many new transplants come from small villages where they pay their rent when they see their landlord in church on Sunday.

“Having rent due on the first…there’s no ramifications for them. We are a credit-based economy, so we don’t wait around until we see the landlord. (So) we teach them that that is how they have to start functioning,” she explains. “Those are the kinds of things we bring to the table, and they will remember us and be our clients forever. Loyalty is very important in the Hispanic community.”

Liberty’s chief executive, John Hewitt, believes that a company should not only serve a community, but also take an active role in seeing it improve, Pierson says, which is why the company is so focused on providing educational services to new immigrants.

“He believes that education provides options, options provide empowerment, and empowerment is the first step on the road to success,” Pierson says of Hewitt.

So not only will Liberty representatives teach clients how to use computers, but also will show them how their check stub relates to a W4 form.

Liberty Tax Service also provides a “Hispanic Services Seal of Excellence Certification” program that ensures that its offices provide bilingual assistance and are knowledgeable about how to properly serve the Hispanic community.

All franchisees that want to work with the Hispanic community must undergo 22 hours of cultural training, a series of seminars that explain body language, hand shaking and other information that would be helpful to staffers serving the community.

Professional groups and universities have sought Liberty’s expertise, Pierson specifically, on Hispanic affairs.

Regent University recently asked Pierson to provide an overview at each of three training seminars the university hosted as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. The seminars are used internally by Liberty management to train their administrative, marketing and recruiting staff.

In addition, the Office of International and Intercultural Programs at Virginia Wesleyan College invited Pierson to do a presentation about being Hispanic and female in the workplace. Her 90-minute presentation, “The Adventures of a Latina Woman in Corporate America,” included a challenge for students to seek careers at organizations that embrace diversity.

“We are service providers, not vendors,” Pierson says. “Information is something that is so important with new immigrants and the first generation here.”

That’s why when Spanish-speaking clients comes into a branch, they are guaranteed to be served by someone fluent in their native tongue.

“You’ve got to understand, we’re presenting a convoluted, difficult topic,” that is tough for many English speakers, Pierson  says. “My team is Mexican, Cuban, Bolivian, Puerto Rican. We train our Spanish preparers. We want to provide access to everyone.

“We want them to expand their English, but not ignore their first language. Self-esteem and pride in your Latino heritage? Those things are priceless.”

Liberty Tax Service provides computerized income-tax preparation, electronic filing and refund loans. Along with audit assistance and a money-back guarantee, Liberty also offers free individual taxpayer identification numbers for all immigrants and free reviews of prior-year tax returns.


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