As a young Navy wife, Evelyn Liberty-Topliff’s first experience with what was then the Navy Relief Society was not a pleasant one. “On our way to my husband’s new duty station in Norfolk, Virginia, we had to replace two tires on our car,” she recalled, “which left us short of money for the security deposit for our apartment. We went to Navy Relief. They determined we had a $5 deficit in our budget and suggested I go back to my parent’s house in Vermont! I was trained as a teacher and planning to get a job and my husband was getting promoted soon. Finally, they did give us assistance, which we paid back promptly. But I thought I would never darken their door again!”
Several years later, her husband was PCS’d to Groton, Connecticut. Evelyn discovered that Groton-area schools did not want to hire teachers they thought might move soon, so she was unable to find a job and was looking for something to do while her husband was deployed. After reading an ad in the newspaper seeking volunteers for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, she decided to try again. “I explained to the director in Groton that I had a bad experience and I wanted to make sure spouses I helped didn’t have that type of experience. Fortunately, they were very friendly and I started volunteering.”
After four years of serving as a volunteer caseworker for the Society, Evelyn decided she needed paid work. She had also been volunteering for the American Red Cross, which then hired her as a volunteer coordinator for blood services, which she did for 18 months. “Then I got a call from NMCRS saying they were hiring budget counselors. I had become an NMCRS addict!” she laughed. She took the job, working as a budget counselor for 15 years.
When the Society launched its area trainer program, Evelyn was recruited to be one of the first trainers. “I was responsible for 10 offices on the East Coast. I would go to each office several times a year to train volunteers and staff in policies, volunteer leadership, casework procedures, and other topics,” she explained. “I would also lend support if a director needed clarification on something or had a problem—they could always call us.
“I liked going to different offices, and seeing different management styles. I was using my own education—doing training and teaching. I loved meeting volunteers and staff and I got to go to places I’d never been before.” Eventually, in addition to US offices, Evelyn traveled to Italy and Spain to conduct trainings there.
Then three years ago, Evelyn was asked if she would serve as director of NMCRS Groton, while continuing to work as an area trainer. “My bucket list had included being a director, so I said ok.” Evelyn credits her success as a director to the time she spent visiting offices as an area trainer. “I was able to take good things from each of the directors I observed. Some people jump in and start changing things right away, but seeing the approaches of so many directors helped me realize I wanted to take time to maintain and develop a well-run office. “The biggest thing I took away from some of directors was how they empowered volunteers to carry out the mission of the Society. I like to let volunteers make the decisions. I’m here to support, encourage, and advise.”
Evelyn’s experience with so many NMCRS offices also enables her to easily network with other directors on her clients’ behalf. “For example, if we’ve got a client here who is getting ready to transfer to Bangor, Washington, I can call that director, Kathy Phillips, and ask her about the cost of living in that area so I can better help my client prepare to PCS. I can say, ‘When you get to this base, check in with this director and she’ll be glad to help you. I know with this organization I can always send someone to another office with confidence they’ll be well taken care. To me it’s a big family.”
“Working for the Society is my calling,” Evelyn said. “I’m just happy that first experience I had many years ago did not discourage me. I found my niche and I am still teaching. I had a young Sailor come back to our office recently to tell me he got budget counseling from our office as an E1, and now he’s an E8, a senior chief petty officer. My goal is to make a difference wherever I can.”
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso