By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
A native of Iceland, Thorunn Bitterman lived there and was studying business administration when she met her husband, who was stationed in Iceland with the U.S. Navy. They fell in love, got married and their son was born in Iceland. Soon afterward, Thorunn’s husband received PCS orders and the young Navy family moved to Yokusuka, Japan.
“Full-time child care was very limited on the base,” Thorunn explained. “So I started volunteering at the NMCRS office, doing casework, and fell in love with the Society.”
The couple added twin girls to their family while living in Japan. Then, in 2011, the family relocated to the U.S. when Thorunn’s husband was assigned to a ship homeported in Norfolk, Virginia.
“I applied for and received a FINRA [Financial Industry Regulatory Authority] fellowship to become one of their accredited financial counselors. I was required to complete 400 hours of financial counseling, so I looked up the NMCRS Norfolk office and started volunteering again.” Thorunn explained. “I thought being a financial counselor would be perfect—it encompasses my educational background—a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in human resources—and what I enjoy doing.”
After finishing many hours of coursework and practice, Thorunn received her certification in February, 2016. Meanwhile, she was still doing casework for the Society and participating in regular casework training. Thorunn found a lot of overlap between the skill sets needed for her FINRA certification and NMCRS casework. “Being a financial counselor incorporates the basics of personal financial management and it also teaches you how to listen to a client and approach the interview. It also encompasses everything the Society does, and I believe it made me a more effective financial counselor and client interviewer.”
Because of her dedication and willingness to go the extra mile to become better educated, Thorunn received the 2016 Hampton Roads Heroes at Home Award for military spouses. Director of NMCRS Norfolk, Kathy Nelson, nominated Thorunn for the award, which was presented by Virginia’s First Lady, Dorothy McAuliffe and Rear Admiral Pete Gumataotao, Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic. Her award included a $500 gift certificate to the local commissary and a seven-day trip to Cancun.
This past May, Thorunn was hired as director of the NMCRS Portsmouth office, putting her casework and financial counseling skills to even greater use. “When I started volunteering, I thought becoming and NMCRS office director would be my dream job,” Thorunn explained. “I felt I would be a perfect fit.” Around the same time, Thorunn became an American citizen. “It was the right thing to do,” she said.
NMCRS Portsmouth is one of four NMCRS offices in the Hampton Roads area, and is located within Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. “Our office is very convenient for our clients,” Thorunn said. “Sometimes, if they have a medical appointment, they will stop by here.” Thorunn looks forward to strengthening her office’s partnership with the naval hospital and other commands within the installation to spread the word about the Society’s programs.
“It is phenomenal to have a job where you genuinely help people on a regular basis,” Thorunn reflected. “You sit down with someone and turn their day around. We’re a military family so it allows me to give back to that community. They do so much for us.”
Welcome aboard, Thorunn!