Five years ago, New Orleans CPA and professor Kem Washington lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. And it was her credential that helped Kem dig herself—and her community—out from tragedy.
Soon after the storm, before she could even return to New Orleans, Kem used her CPA smarts to start a blog to help local residents get back on their feet. “I just gave information as far as what grants were available, where you could go if you needed any type of financial assistance. That was very helpful to a lot of people,” she says.
Several months later, Kem returned to New Orleans and began her career at Dillard University, where she teaches accounting and business courses. During 2008, she applied for and won a grant to help local small businesses recover from the storm. “Most of them lost everything, even records—accounting records, books, payroll, and things of that nature. So, [my students and I] help them through things. We help them get grants and available funds, and things out there that they may not have known about.”
Kem says it’s those opportunities to better the community that made her decide to leave her post as an IRS revenue agent and become a professor at a relatively young age. “I think it’s very important that CPAs give back. That’s one of my mottos,” she says. “I volunteer with VITA, which is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. I also help out with different accounting organizations such as NABA, and I also help the students with different problems that they have as far as pursuing the CPA. I help them with everything that I possibly can.”
While Kem spends most of her time teaching, volunteering and working on the last leg of her PhD (where her research is also focused on helping hurricane victims), she also manages to run her own small business, Washington CPA Services LLC. It provides tax and other accounting services to New Orleans individuals and businesses. But even Kem’s own business has a volunteer element—she also uses it to provide free tax services to single mothers and others who may be struggling financially.
“I feel passionate about it, it’s something I love and enjoy doing. Just to get back into the community and get individuals going with accounting is important to me,” she says.
Does she ever just want some time to herself?
“It’s a lot of things going on at once, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I know some people say they really love what they’re doing, but I really love what I’m doing.”
Want to see what Kem is up to right now? Check out her website, kemberley.com.