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Dolly Parton helps Legal Aid prove custody for a Westlake father in a fight with the IRS

Rich Isacson never dreamed anyone would question that his kids were his, and spent a year trying to prove it to the IRS before books from Dolly Parton saved the day
Credit: Rich Isacson and Crystal Ryan
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Dolly Parton, and a whole lotta books helped Rich Isacson and Crystal Ryan prove they were the parents of their children, and get the money that belonged to their family from the IRS.

WESTLAKE, Ohio — It's not every day that Dolly Parton helps someone solve a legal problem, but that's exactly what happened for a Westlake couple when they were all out of ideas up against the IRS.

This is the story of how the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Dolly, and a whole lotta books helped Rich Isacson and Crystal Ryan prove they were the parents of their children, and get the money that belonged to their family.

Like a lot of families, Rich and Crystal were hit hard by the pandemic, with their theater company closing in Indiana.

"The pandemic changed so many people's lives," Crystal said, remembering the start of what would turn into an even more trying time.

They never would’ve guessed Dolly Parton would be the one to come to their rescue when they needed it most, in an emotional fight against the IRS.

"They wanted me to pay them money," Rich said, still in shock over the ordeal. "They were saying that I owed them something like $800 and I was, like, 'What in the world?! No, you owe me my tax money for everything!'"

Rich and crystal aren’t married but they’re very much a family. They've been together now for 10 years with two adorable children. Both Jude, 7, and Juniper, 2, who love to read.

After they had to close their theater company in indiana, Crystal couldn't get paid leave when their daughter was born, so they moved here to Ohio to be closer to Crystal's family. That's where Rich became the primary source of income for their family. When he claimed their children for the first time on his 2021 tax return, he was expecting thousands of dollars back, but the IRS rejected the filing.

"That was the most frustrating thing," Rich said. "It could have been 50 bucks and I still would have fought just as hard because I wanted to let them know t=that these kids are mine, that they're ours."

The amount of proof of custody that the IRS was asking for was overwhelming for Rich and Crystal.

"One of the big check marks is that you've got to have proof of residency for the kids," Rich said. "I was, like, 'I don't know how we're gonna fight this, I need help,' and that's when we went and reached out to Legal Aid."

Through Legal Aid's Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, staff attorney Michelle Frazier took on their case, and that’s where the fabulous Dolly Parton comes in.

"I asked him, 'Do you have any mail showing that your children lived at the same address as you during 2021?'" Michelle told 3News. "He said, 'Well,  yeah, I have some books.' I said, 'Okay, just just send them to me,' andhe emailed me the [mailing] labels from books from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library."

Thankfully, Rich and Crystal had been getting books for their kids from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for years, thanks to Crystal's love for reading.

"I'm the reader in the family," Crystal said. "I had heard about this a little bit after Jude was born and I thought this was just such a awonderful program and I geeked out immediately. I was, like, 'Dolly Parton's gonna send us books?' so I signed us up!"

Through the program, children receive free books addressed to them in the mail once every month leading up to their first day in Kindergarten, when they graduate from the program. 

"I was really excited when we had Juniper because I was like, 'Oh, we get to get right back on the Dolly Parton train!'" Crystal said.

When Rich and Crystal learned their books from Dolly were all the proof they needed to beat the IRS audit, they were ecstatic.

"I was, like, 'We're going to send them every book we got! I'm gonna take every picture, they're going to have to go through so many books!'" Rich said, smiling from ear to ear.

After sending in those mailing labels, Rich and Crystal finally got their 2021 tax refund in December, just a few months ago. Now, they're settled in Westlake, where they’re still getting their books from Dolly for Juniper.

"We've had so many good memories with the books that we've read but then, wow, to be able to have something physical like a piece of mail with your child's name on it in a time where you really need it, it was incredible," Crystal said, sharing her appreciation for Dolly's literacy program.

"Yeah, it's wild," Rich agreed. Sending a message directly to Dolly, he added:

"You touch people's lives in so many ways, girl, like you don't even know! We are so blessed and thankful to have you do this program!"

Crystal chimed in, saying, "We love your music!" and perhaps the best review of all came from young Jude, who summed it up so well with: "You're a walking masterpiece, darling!"

You can learn more about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library here, and get more information about Legal Aid's Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic here.


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