If a real estate appraisal class in Virginia Beach, Virginia in 1990 hadn’t been canceled, Kathy Phillips would not be celebrating 20 years of service with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. “I’d been a military spouse for several years and we had a 10-month old daughter,” Kathy recalled. “I needed some adult conversation. I was also thinking about changing my career, which had been in architecture. I thought I’d go back to school to learn something different. So I found a babysitter and signed up for a real estate appraisal class. I was excited! Then the class was canceled. Fortunately, I’d read an ad in the newspaper for a receptionist in the Norfolk office of the Society. The ad stated that child care and mileage were reimbursed. I’d served as an ombudsman at my husband’s previous duty station in New Jersey and enjoyed that. I thought that job might work for me.”

Previously, Kathy had taken the Society’s Budget for Baby workshop at NMCRS Little Creek but didn’t know about volunteer opportunities with the Society. When she started volunteering at NMCRS Norfolk she spent a week in orientation learning about all of the Society’s programs. “Back then we didn’t schedule appointments. On Monday there would be a line of 30 to 40 clients wrapped around the building. We’d take the first 20 people and start triaging the remaining people to see if we could schedule them for another day or they might have to wait hours.”

When the Phillips family PCS’d to California, Kathy began volunteering in the Point Hueneme NMCRS office (now NMCRS Ventura), which was a much smaller office than NMCRS Norfolk. “I was surprised that it was not as busy, and we could have conversations in the office!” she recalled. She became chair of volunteers and eventually was hired to manage the branch office at Point Mugu. A couple years later, the family PCS’d to San Diego, where their son was born, so Kathy took some time off. When she returned to volunteering, it was at NMCRS Miramar. Six months later, an 0A2 position—known today as the relief services assistant—became available at NMCRS San Diego and Kathy was selected. A year later the family PCS’d to Bremerton, Washington, and Kathy volunteered for five months at NMCRS Bangor before she was hired as director.

“This is so much more rewarding than my previous career,” Kathy said. “I’ve never looked back. I’m so happy and blessed that the real estate appraisal class was cancelled. It’s amazing how one twist of fate can lead to something else.” Kathy not only gained a new career, but a large extended family. “Everyone at the Society becomes instant family,” she said. “

Her innate sense of service was articulated for Kathy at an NMCRS conference where she learned about the concept of servant leadership. “That really resonated with me and I’ve been trying to follow that mantra in everything I do. I’ve learned that one is always growing and learning as a leader, but it’s not about me as an individual, it’s about me helping my team grow. That’s what’s most rewarding.”

“I am proud to watch my volunteers grow,” Kathy said. “I watch them learn as they go and become successful. I have these proud moments to see the amazement of my volunteers when they are able to help others. That’s why I wake up smiling.”

“The Society does an amazing job staying relevant – to clients and volunteers, especially in the last 10 years with the pace of technological changes,” Kathy said. “We’re so diverse. In our office, our youngest volunteer is 20 and our oldest is 88. Where else does that happen? That diversity makes us richer.”

Over her many years as both a volunteer and employee with the Society, Kathy has worked with many clients, and a few stick in her mind. “There are a handful you never forget.

Several years ago, a Navy retiree come in who we’d never served before. He was a civil service employee and his wife was also employed. Their daughter was suffering from an eating disorder. Tricare support was exhausted. The children’s hospital said it couldn’t do anything else. The family’s only hope was to get their daughter into an intensive rehabilitation facility for 30 to 60 days. The facility was willing to waive $100,000 of the fee IF they could come up with $20,000. The family had no other financial resources available. We helped them. That was the biggest Society check I’ve ever written. Helping that military family was amazing – I’ll never forget it.”

Thank you for your dedication to the Society, Kathy!

By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

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