KaraTolmanBy Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

Growing up with a Marine Corps dad, Kara Tolman loved her military community, and always knew she wanted to do something to contribute to it. Born and raised in Jacksonville, North Carolina, home to Camp Lejeune, Tolman was surrounded by service members and their families. “I saw families go through hardships when parents were deployed,” she recalled. “I saw how hard transitions were on kids who moved every four years. I saw the effects of war on families. I saw my mom who worked, raised two kids, and was a military spouse. All that compelled me to think about what I could do to help.”

Now, Tolman has the opportunity to provide that assistance as an intern with NMCRS New River. As a student in the social work program at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Tolman is required to complete a volunteer internship related to her coursework. Tolman began her year-long internship with NMCRS last May as a client services assistance and a caseworker. She is working toward her Level III casework certification. “I’m trying to do a little bit of everything here because that’s how you learn.” Tolman plans to continue volunteering even after her internship concludes in May. “I love the Society too much to stop volunteering!” she said.

“The Society has done so much for me,” Tolman said. “I’m learning more about service members and the financial hardships they have while serving on active duty. For someone who’s engaged to marry an active duty Marine, it’s interesting to see what kinds of situations people can get themselves into. Not only is volunteering here teaching me about financial things I need to be aware of in my own relationship, I can educate others about their financial responsibilities and what they should be doing to advocate for themselves.” Tolman and her Marine fiancé plan to marry in 2018.

After graduation, Tolman plans to attend graduate school become a licensed clinical social worker. “Ultimately, I want to do therapy, substance abuse counseling, help families through transitions, or work with service members who have PTSD. I don’t exactly know what I’ll specialize in, but I know I want to help active duty service members.”

Integrating the principles of social work that she’s learned in class with her volunteer work has helped Tolman understand what clients have already gone through by the time they walk into an NMCRS office. “I didn’t realize the severity of the stigma of asking for help, whether it’s for mental health care or financial assistance. Service members are told ‘Stand on your own. You can do this!’ Someone coming to you to ask for help can be a big thing for them. I want to help break down those barriers that keep people from asking for help.”

“In school I’ve learned how important it is to point out the strengths in clients. Usually people come in focusing on what’s gone wrong and what they’re not good at. I tell them, ‘You’ve made it this far—how have you done it?’ I help them try to wake up the next day and say, ‘It’s a good day’ even when they’re facing dilemmas.”

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