Last time Virginia Imlah and her husband were living in Sicily, on his previous tour there, Virginia was pregnant with their first child. “I’d heard about the Budget for Babies Workshop, so my husband and I came in to meet with a caseworker and plan a budget for our baby,” she recalled. “But I had no idea that so many people working with the Society were volunteers. I thought they were all paid staff.” It wasn’t until her husband’s most recent tour as a commanding officer did Virginia learn about the unique way the Society provides services and programs.
One of the NMCRS officers briefed the command leadership course Virginia attended with her spouse when he was en route to his command tour, and that’s when she fully understood how the Society works. “I remember thinking, ‘I wish I would’ve known about this years ago because I would’ve been volunteering!’” Virginia started volunteering at NMCRS Whidbey Island, one day a week doing casework and one day a week in the thrift shop. During the nine months she volunteered there, NMCRS Area Trainer Kelly Barton visited the office and mentioned the open director position in Sigonella.
“I really enjoyed my time in Whidbey and learning to do casework,” she said. “In the thrift store there was a big need for volunteers and I found it enjoyable to organize things and try to make it better for the customers. All of our volunteers were great, and there was a wonderful sense of community. I was sad to leave, but I knew I could find that community wherever we were stationed next.”
“We got the orders to Italy and had to report on a compressed timeline, and it was hectic moving overseas, so I didn’t think I had time to apply for the job,” Virginia said. “When we got here one of the first things I did was come to the office to volunteer, and I learned the position was still open, so I applied.”
Through 13 moves and many months traveling and living out of suitcases, Virginia never had time to build a traditional career. “It’s been a challenge. I have a teaching degree and I’ve wanted to work, but with all those moves we’d never lived in a place longer than two years. I have volunteered in various schools and I took courses to help people prepare taxes. I homeschooled my boys for a year while we were traveling with my husband when he was in the training pipeline.”
“Now my kids are older, and I can take on more responsibility and carve out something for myself. As director, I can develop my career and put my skills to use. I’m very glad for this opportunity.”
“This office is definitely a lot smaller than Whidbey Island,” Virginia said. “We currently have about 38 volunteers. The most common financial need is for household set-up assistance. It’s very expensive to live over here. There are lots of added costs, and if a service member has to find a place to live, they don’t always have enough money to cover first month’s rent and security deposits. We also do a lot of emergency travel cases. I want to make sure all the service members and families know about all our programs and services.”
Virginia’s father served in the Marines but was medically discharged before she was born. “I grew up in an Air Force town, surrounded by Air Force families” she explained. “My dad tried to get both my sister and me to join the military. That didn’t work out, but he did get my husband! My husband had always wanted to be a military pilot, but then he was accepted to graduate school. We went to look at the campus and saw planes flying in and out and thought maybe he actually could be a pilot. The Navy sent a recruiter out the next day and the rest is history! He spent years flying P3s, then transitioned to P8s, and now he’s in a non-flying job.”
The last time the family was stationed in Sicily, Virginia taught herself some Italian from library books. “I learned quite a bit—I can order food and get around. It’s been 10 years and it’s gotten rusty, but it’s coming back now. I can read and understand a lot, but speaking is harder.” She and her husband are trying to show their eight-year-old and 11-year-old sons as much of Italy as they can. “We are trying to make the most of our time here because we know it will go by quickly. We take trips to different places a couple times a month. There’s so much to see around every corner—so much history.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso