The 2023 tax season marked the close of the 18th year with Prepare + Prosper (P+P) for seasonal staff veteran Shantel King Cook of Brooklyn Center. But Shantel’s “seasonal work” is transitioning to a new area of employment with P+P — to the FAIR Financial banking program as a new seasonal enrollment specialist.

Yes, Shantel has been with P+P as a tax site manager for nearly two decades! “I have to think back to when my nephew was born to remember what year I started,” she said in a recent interview. It was indeed in 2005 she intended to become a volunteer, but instead was invited to come on as a seasonal employee because we were short-staffed at the time. Over these years, she has had the same role, although sometimes with different titles she noted, and has worked at all but three of P+P’s many tax sites throughout the Twin Cities metro area.

When asked what drew her to P+P in the first place, she remembered learning from a counseling peer who was both a CPA and a social worker – as well as a P+P seasonal staffer at the time – that finance and social work are so interconnected, and that’s what caught her attention.

She explained, “As a social worker and lifelong educator we use empathy, compassion, and listening to do our work.  These qualities are what are needed in the world of taxes. It’s all about sensitive information – if they’re not comfortable, then the process is not going to go as smoothly.  My background in social work is in residential housing and education. So, I know what it’s like to deal with different dynamics, and it has related to everything I’ve been doing with P+P over the years.”

Shantel gets it. She uses her compassion and empathy with every tax customer that comes to the Twin Cities Urban League site where she has managed for the last five years.

“The way she connects with both customers and volunteers, she knows and remembers so many people, she just makes the whole space feel so welcoming.” said Willie Gregg, P+P Tax + Financial Manager. “She is positive, fun, always laughing, versatile, flexible. But what sets her apart is she understands that you never know who or what problems will walk through the door, but she will do whatever it takes to figure it out.”

A 20-year Brooklyn Center resident, along with her husband Earnest Cook, owner of a private trucking company, they have an extended family of five inherited children, two grandchildren, a special niece and nephew who are like their own, and a number of Godchildren. Outside of P+P and her large family, Shantel is always available for her community. She currently serves on the newly founded board of the NAACP MN-NWS Chapter, and on the board of Future Leaders Matter, an organization working with mentors and mentees similar to the Big Brother Big Sister programs that started many years ago. She helps with outreach and networking within the schools and communities to get teenagers involved and paired with a mentor because, as she states, “We know the importance of adolescents needing to build trusting relationships. So that’s what I do throughout the year and when tax season is over, I go full-fledged with that again. When one thing ends, another one picks up.”

Taxes go on year-round, but the season slows down. Shantel on the other hand, keeps moving ahead at full speed regardless of the season.

In 2022, Shantel ran for a seat on the Brooklyn Center City Council. While she didn’t get elected, she has no regrets and acknowledges that she learned a lot and may do it again someday. She still attends the council meetings to be aware of what is going on. She maintains that continuing desire to be a positive voice for her community.

In place of holding public office, she instead chose to join a new committee last August to further help another area of need within her community. CEAP is the Community Emergency Assistance Program, responding to community needs for services. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, their volunteer numbers and services stayed the same, but the organization had to lay off more than half of its staff. Brooklyn Center was hit hard with many businesses closing recently, including Walmart and Applebee’s. Shantel is one of seven community members volunteering to make the emergency services happen. She is borrowing ideas and volunteer procedures from P+P and trying to make the CEAP’s program more accessible to those in need and to make the community aware of the resources CEAP provides.

When asked about entering a new role at the organization, her response was “P+P is in my blood! I was delighted when I saw the message asking about interest in helping the FAIR program. It’s a component of what I do currently, promoting all the services, sharing as much information as I can. The fact that I’m able to learn even more about these services, I’m able to really get behind it. The more you know about something, the more passion ignites from it.”

Shantel is always looking for ways to empower people, including family and friends. When she sees a need, she wants to help. She’s excited to be learning along with a new team. “There are no other organizations doing what we do, so I’m just grateful and so proud to be included in of another part of it.”

We at P+P are so proud to have her commitment and dedication to the service she provides to so much and so many at Prepare + Prosper.