Coming from the film industry, when Roberto Gonzalez-Rubio moved with his wife to Oceanside, California for her job with a biotech firm, his career options seemed limited. Gonzalez-Rubio realized that Oceanside, which borders Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to the South, is a military town. Without opportunities to work as an assistant director in film, Gonzalez-Rubio needed something to do, so he started looking for volunteer gigs. “As a civilian, I had never heard of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, but I called my niece, whose husband was a Sailor, and she said, ‘they’re the best!’ so I made an appointment to interview with them.”
That was three years ago, and Gonzalez-Rubio has since put in 1,100 hours as a volunteer at NMCRS Camp Pendleton, first as as a client services assistant (CSA), and then as a caseworker.
“From the moment I got here people asked me if I was interested in casework, but I was hesitant,” Gonzalez-Rubio explained. “Being a civilian and not aware of how military life worked, I didn’t want to be seen as a scold or wagging my finger at clients, but I’m happy to say I understand now that working with clients is nothing like that.” After about 20 months of being a CSA, Gonzalez-Rubio participated in casework training and has enjoyed doing casework since last summer. “For our clients, it may be their first time coming to the Society,” he explained. “The case for the client is unique and important and you better show up prepared. Having to come in and ask for help can be a challenge for some folks. I feel an obligation to do my job well because of that.”
“The majority of the time when people walk into the office, I’m able to take care of their problem right then and there,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a systemic problem which needs more time and attention, but I can usually take care of an immediate problem. Our clients walk out the door with a check – and their situation – at that point in time is handled, which is very gratifying.”
Gonzalez-Rubio appreciates the opportunity to help Sailors and Marines, particularly because he’s observed the aggressive marketing by predatory lenders toward service members that’s common outside of large military bases such as Camp Pendleton. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at 42, so Gonzalez-Rubio also values the ability to learn something new at any age.
“When I’m not sure about how something works in the military , I can always pull someone aside and ask,” he said. “Everyone at the Society is so open and willing to give you a hand. My biggest frustration is I still have to count chevrons [to learn someone’s rank], so I call everyone Sir. They call me Sir. You can’t go wrong calling people Sir or Ma’am.”