While her husband was assigned to a temporary duty station to attend Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut, Jenna Hartsfield felt trapped. While she wasn’t inside a submarine, she was sitting around in a hotel room wondering what to do with her time. She wasn’t planning to stay in Groton long enough to get a job, but unfamiliar with the area, she didn’t know what else to do. “Another Sailor told my husband about how his wife had volunteered with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, so I grabbed onto that,” she said. “It started out as something I needed to do to keep myself occupied, but I found I loved it so much that when we headed back to Charleston I continued to volunteer.”
In Charleston, Hartsfield became a caseworker, even though she had initially been reluctant to do casework because she worried that she wouldn’t know what to do. But her fears were quickly put to rest. “The Society has a whole training program for volunteers, which is great because anybody from any background can gain the skills to do what the Society needs us to do,” she explained. “Whether it’s serving as a client services assistant, doing casework, teaching Budget for Baby classes, or providing Quick Assist Loans. The staff and relief services assistants and directors and volunteers are all really helpful, especially when you’re first learning casework. It’s not always an easy job, but they help you feel comfortable.”
Hartsfield quickly become comfortable enough that when her family moved to Washington State, she volunteered at both NMCRS Bangor and NMCRS Bremerton, located about 15 miles apart. “I did casework and also served as casework lead and resource coordinator,” she explained. As resource coordinator, Hartsfield researched and collected online and local resources for Sailors and Marines and found innovative ways to share and promote them. “A lot of our younger Sailors use their phones a lot more, and I thought they might want a budgeting app on their phone instead of using a spreadsheet on the computer,” she said. “And I made sure all the office supplies were restocked, and put up a message board in the waiting area where we announced opportunities like Budget for Baby classes or Daddy Boot Camp at the Fleet and Family Support center. These were things we might not mention during casework.” Hartsfield also implemented a Lunch and Learn program for caseworkers to discuss how to best address client needs.
In recognition of the breadth and depth of her service, Hartsfield received a commendation from NMCRS President Admiral Steve Abbot in April 2015. Admiral Abbot wrote, “Professional and methodical, you’ve demonstrated an abiding commitment to the welfare of every client—crafting individualized solutions for each Sailor or Marine. Generous, conscientious and patient, you’re a superb leader and a gracious team player.”
This summer, Hartsfield brought those skills to NMCRS Navy Yard in Washington, DC, where her husband is on shore duty assigned to Naval Reactors. After five moves in five years, Hartsfield is now a knowledgeable Navy spouse, but she credits the Society with helping her acclimate to the role and gain confidence that led her to recently begin a full-time job with Student Affairs Leadership in Higher Education doing membership finance.
“When I started volunteering, I was a brand new Navy wife—I didn’t know anything about military life or the structure of Navy. I’ve learned a lot about the Navy.” she recalled. “I started out on a training base, then helped Sailors in the fleet, on carriers and submarines, and now I’m doing more with retirees. When I was in Charleston, the chair of volunteers was another submarine wife, and she gave me insight into what it was going to be like when the boats go out to sea.”
“I’ve always been introverted and shy and felt awkward in social interactions, so I thought casework would be a struggle, but over time I became a lot more comfortable talking with clients one on one. Each client has a different situation or a different attitude. You have to change your approach with each one. I surprised myself by how much I’ve grown personally from being a caseworker, and how passionate I’ve become about the clients’ struggles.”