On her very first day as a volunteer at NMCRS Gulfport, Traci Schuck was sitting at the front desk typing intake cards when a pregnant mother walked in with a three-year-old in tow. “As I started to type the card, her water broke,” Schuck recalled. “She told me her husband was deployed and her aunt was her support person – but she wasn’t scheduled to arrive for two more weeks.” Schuck sprang into action and arranged for the day care center on base to take the three-year-old. Fortunately, the experienced mother had her child’s immunization records in her purse. Traci also called the ambulance to take her first client to the hospital. Then, Traci called the client’s aunt and suggested she jump in her car right away.
Not every day at NMCRS is quite as exciting, but Schuck has enjoyed working with the Society so much that she recently celebrated her 20-year-anniversary as an employee. During her time in Gulfport as a volunteer, inspired partially for the desire for adult interaction while her husband was deployed and her one-year-old and four-year-old were at home, Schuck worked as receptionist, chair of publicity, and chair of volunteers. When her family moved to San Diego in 1995, Schuck wanted to find a job because the cost of living was so high. She got a job as an office assistant at the North Island Branch of the San Diego Auxiliary of the Navy Relief Society – primarily doing casework. In 2000, her job title changed to counselor.
“Then, in August 2012, our director retired and I applied for her position and was extremely happy that they moved me into the director’s job,” Schuck said. “It’s my dream job. I like helping people. I like being able to see a problem and help someone fix it. I empower them to see a different way to handle their problems.”
Schuck is particularly passionate about educating clients about predatory lenders which are particularly prevalent in the San Diego area. “I do a lot of command briefs to educate Sailors that they need to be vigilant and be a smart consumer.”
While the North Island office is small in terms of square footage, it’s one of the top NMCRS offices in terms of volume of client caseload. Many efficiencies have been introduced during Schuck’s tenure which have helped the office serve more clients. “We went from typing those intake cards on the typewriter to using computers. I was the first system administrator for the Gulfport office. We used to use triplicate forms, but computers made the job so much more efficient and better for the clients.” North Island was also a pilot site for the Quick Assist Loan program, which Traci said was immediately popular with her clients, volunteers, and staff.
Another transition that’s happened in the North Island office since Schuck arrived is the shift from primarily staff members doing casework to mostly volunteers seeing clients. “Our mentoring and training are really strong here,” Schuck said. “I’m a big proponent of mentoring. It’s one of my favorite things to do. When people are new and they think they might want to do casework, we’re happy to mentor them along.”
Of course Traci Shuck and her staff still see plenty of clients. “When clients are reluctant to tell me something, I tell them I’ve heard it all,” she explained. “I tell them, ‘You’re not going to shock me or upset me.’” Schuck believes that more and more cases are difficult today, with many layers. “So we get our boots on and start digging,” she said. “If you’re looking for a way to say “no” you’re not doing it right. Our “yes” rate is 97.5%. We advocate strongly for clients who we believe need help.”
At the same time, the Society helps its own employees and volunteers as well. “This organization takes care of its people,” she said. “I’m a cancer survivor, and back in 1997, I needed to take time off to have chemo and radiation. I ran out of sick leave and used up my annual leave. Random employees were donating leave to me so I wouldn’t go without a paycheck. Our chair of volunteers came over and made me potato soup and took me to chemo. I can’t imagine being a part of any other organization. It’s not just a job—this is my family.”
Congratulations, Traci, on your 20 years of faithful service to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and to Sailors, Marines and their families!