A new perspective on community outreach

We will remember the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of great change. The word "pivot" became known as more than a basketball move where you plant one foot and rotate your body around it as you look for the perfect pass. Barmak is an outreach officer for the Canada Revenue Agency who works in Montreal's regional Tax Services Office, and he knows all about the power of a good pivot.

As an outreach officer at the CRA, Barmak works with community organizations, located all across Quebec, to educate people about the tax filing process, so that they have the information they need to file and access the benefits and credits to which they may be entitled. He works with various community organizations to speak to people about the tax filing process and to help them find the information they need to get started. Whether he is talking to a group of seniors, youth or newcomers to Canada, Barmak speaks to these groups about the tax benefits and credits they are most interested in.

Before the pandemic, Barmak travelled from one community to the next and he met people face-to-face. With this very personalized approach, Barmak built relationships with community hosts, and he could shake a person's hand before giving them a pamphlet that explained their benefits entitlement.

With the pandemic came the need to pivot, and right away. Perhaps not quite as practised as the move of a basketball star, how Barmak and his colleagues meet with their clients had to change. What hadn't changed, though, was the need to keep that foot firmly planted: people still needed information about tax benefits and credits. With this pandemic pivot, Barmak and his colleagues moved to providing 100% virtual support.

While it is easy enough to think about what we miss and find difficult during such times of drastic change, Barmak spoke about the positive changes he'd seen since moving to virtual outreach. The number of people a room could accommodate, for example, was no longer an issue, and sure enough, the number of attendees for outreach sessions began to increase. A session organized for McGill University students brought more than 100 people to it. As the realities of a Zoom life began to take hold, more and more seniors began to attend the sessions too. Not only did people get the answers to their questions, it gave them the chance to touch base with each other as the realities of life during a pandemic set in.

Whether reaching people virtually or in person, Barmak knew that the key to success was connecting with people. He knows that by being friendly, sometimes a bit funny, and knowledgeable about income tax and benefits, he can answer people's questions and make them feel at ease.

At the end of the day Barmak says, ‘'Building and maintaining a connection with people during this time of need is crucial. People deserve to be informed about all the benefits and credits they are entitled to, and it is my duty to make sure of that. I want people to feel respected and reassured, by providing them with answers to their questions. At the end of the day, the exchange of words between us creates clarity for them, and a sense of accomplishment for us. That is why I love what I do.''

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