Law & Taxes: Life-long learning and helping people at foundation of Detroit woman’s dual career
Lions, tigers and Lundy. Oh my!
Detroit, the Motor City, may be best known for being the epicenter of the U.S. auto industry and home to top-tier professional sports franchises – NFL’s Lions, MLB’s Tigers, NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings. But for many in Midtown Detroit, one person personifies the best of Detroit with the heart of a lion and the tenacity of a tiger: Valencia Lundy.
Valencia Lundy is the youngest of seven children. Self-proclaimed as being “spoiled,” Lundy’s work ethic and effervescent smile have more than made up for what she received as the “baby” of the family. From her first job in fast-food as a teen, her mother instilled in her to do her best at all times.
“Mom always said to look at every job you have like it is your career,” Lundy said one morning between seeing clients as a tax professional at an H&R Block office a few blocks from Wayne State University. “That’s because you never know how long you may be doing it – so treat it like you will be there forever and be the best you can be.”
Two-careers, one goal – serving others
Lundy took that to heart and has had not one career, but two. Her careers have spanned more than 40 years; Lundy spent 25 years as a Wayne County Sherriff’s officer and is in her 20th year as a tax professional at H&R Block. While most people are lucky to have one career, Lundy is going strong on her second career.
In the mid-1980s, Lundy began Career No. 1 and during the next 25 years would learn a lot about herself, find and marry the love of her life, launch Career No. 2 and realize that she is never truly fulfilled unless she is learning something new or serving others.
A Detroit native, Lundy joined the Wayne County Sherriff’s Department in 1986. She held several positions, first working in the jail, then in the courts, later served as a forms processor issuing warrants, then as a local D.A.R.E officer in area schools, and then finally back to jail in the women’s psych ward. During this career she met and married Jonathan Jackson. Lundy and her husband retired from the force in 2009 – more than a decade into her role as a tax professional. She also was active in her union, which is where she started to learn the true value of serving others.
Among her law enforcement colleagues, Lundy can count many of them as her clients and friends. One such person is Nicole Rideaux, a former partner at the Sherriff’s department.
When Lundy first did Rideaux’s taxes she found her additional tax savings due to rental properties Rideaux had left off the tax return. It was clear then that Rideaux would be a client for life.
“Valencia lives, eats and breathes taxes,” Rideaux said.
The two share more than just the occasional tax tip, however. They share a strong blue bond.
“In law enforcement, you create this brotherhood and sisterhood,” Rideaux said. “Any special occasions we are there for each other. That’s what I have with Valencia. I feel I am part of her family. We have a bond that cannot be broken.”
D.A.R.E to dream
It may have been her time as a school D.A.R.E officer lecturing school children on the dangers of drugs — when she developed her knack for teaching. The move to D.A.R.E. was a great one for her because she discovered she was “very community-oriented.”
“Every day going to work was like going to school to play,” Lundy said. “But I also really enjoyed the teaching aspect, too.”
She enjoyed teaching so much she went back to school during the past couple of years at Wayne State to get her teaching degree. She is just a semester or two short of that goal. But funny thing happened on her way to that degree: taxes. And thus, a third career is not happening – for now.“I just realized I love doing taxes and helping my clients too much,” she said.
So, her teaching fix comes at H&R Block. It’s little wonder that Lundy is one of the top H&R Block Income Tax Course instructors and has developed a plan that generates interest in the class among her clients and other clients who visit her office.
But her ITC teaching career just about didn’t get off the ground – it soared to new heights. As a new instructor, she was asked to teach one of the first courses in the summer. Typically, these classes in August are very lightly attended. So she was given the challenge: recruit students or don’t teach. As she does with everything, Lundy threw herself into this task full force. A class that often is cancelled due to low turnout was full in a few weeks. And her methods proved so successful she was asked to teach (and recruit) upcoming ITC sessions that fall and every year since.
“I like to challenge myself,” she said about constantly learning and doing more. “I like to learn so I can teach. I think if I’m going to expect others to learn how to do something from me I better know how to do it first.”
Back to Block
The two careers meshed so well it was easy to keep doing both.
“Working at H&R Block helped me develop better communications skills that I could apply to my work in law enforcement,” Lundy said.
After retiring from the Sherriff’s office, there was no question that Lundy would continue at H&R Block and keep expanding her role. Today, in addition to writing approximately 350 tax returns every season, Lundy enjoys her “off-season” role as an Income Tax Course recruiter and ambassador. Her recruitment method? Just ask. She says she asks people she meets on the street if they have ever thought about preparing tax returns. She tells them about the Income Tax Course, how much it costs and if they are interested, she asks when they might be ready to sign up. Easy as that.
She’s also a certification coach and a first-year tax pro mentor. Her interest in serving her community lead her to finding her calling: managing an H&R Block tax office. Even after moving to an office 15 miles from where she had been serving her clients previously, she retained 89 percent of her clients. After three years in the new office, that office’s revenue increased 300 percent.
“I believe my work in law enforcement helped to develop my communication skills for H&R Block,” Lundy said. “Not only with client service but also my ability to relate to and communicate with the many personalities of the tax pros. It's like my whole life journey led to this moment at H&R Block.
“I get the company concept, company vision, client interaction – I really get it,” Lundy said.
Lundy stands sentry at the intersection of people’s lives
Two of her more memorable stories – one as a civil processor and one as a tax professional – tell the tale of the depths of Lundy’s passion and compassion.
One summer day Lundy was serving a personal protection order against a citizen. Lundy approached the home with no trepidation. She had her training and knew she knew people and how to talk to them. As she approached the home she clearly heard shouts and profanities. When she got to the door it was open and the only thing between her and the screaming was a screen door. She knocked and when a man came to the door she explained who she was, showed her badge and asked if the man she was coming to see was the one inside shouting. When the person at the door indicated it was, Lundy with one-part humor and one-part empathy noted, “Well, he may shout some more after I give him what I have for him.”
It was just the right thing to say at the right time. The man came to the door and after declaring how he felt toward her, the man who filed for the protection order and life in general, he eventually calmed down.
“I understood why this man was upset,” Lundy said. “I let him vent because I know he wouldn’t have listened to a thing I said until I first listened to him.”
Her calming demeanor won this person over. She politely explained that no matter how upset he may be he cannot threaten anyone. But she also explained how to appeal the ruling and what to do to remedy the whole situation.
Order, in effect, was restored.
This ability also is on full display at the tax office during hectic times in January. The tax season after the company discontinued its refund anticipation loan, a single mother came in as she normally did to get her taxes completed and apply for a refund anticipation loan. She was anticipating the refund the next day in order to pay a utility bill and keep herself and her children warm for another month. When informed the company was not offering that product, the client started crying. Lundy consoled her and asked if there was anyone she could call who could help. The woman said there was, her grandmother. But she had already asked her for assistance before and didn’t feel like she could ask again. So, Lundy being Lundy, she called. After explaining the situation, the grandmother was more than happy to help. And when the refund deposited a week or two later the woman paid her back.
This woman is still a client. She no longer needs a RAL to pay utility bills or is in danger of having her heat shut off. Her oldest daughter is in college and Lundy is helping ensure they claim those highly valuable education tax credits.
“Valencia is amazing at building client relationships,” said Jason Burkett, District General Manager. “When I first started working with Valencia that was the first thing that impressed me about her. She is real with her clients, she gives them sound advice and follows up with them to make sure they are taking that advice and making a positive outcome to their tax scenario.”
Can’t judge a book by its cover
Twenty-five years in law enforcement, about half of those serving in the county jail, plus 20 as a tax professional through some of the best and worst economic times Detroit has seen, has taught Lundy one valuable lesson:
“It is important to look beyond what you see. Look beyond the surface.”
The same can be said about Valencia Lundy. There is plenty more there than meets the eye.
By Gene King
Gene King joined H&R Block in 2008 after starting his 25-year communications career in print journalism. He sums up his philosophy simply: “words matter.” A proud graduate of the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, King earned his Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from KU in 2001 and his accreditation in public relations (APR) in 2015. In addition to serving as H&R Block’s newsroom editor-in-chief, King also is the global spokesman for H&R Block.