On June 4, 2018, Nina Lohr-Valdez is giving herself a generous birthday present—the opportunity to begin a new chapter of her life. After being part of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society for decades—first as a volunteer and then as an employee for the past 12 years, Nina will retire from the Society. “I think there’s a point in time for those of us whose experience is growing old to step aside and let new people come in who understand how to connect with today’s volunteers and military personnel.”

Early in Nina’s life as a military spouse, she and her husband were living in Pensacola, Florida, and she was working as a nurse. “I went to a Wives Club meeting and they invited me to check out Navy Relief,” she recalled. “I wasn’t really looking for a volunteer position, but I decided to volunteer in the thrift store. I was working in a cardiac care unit, on rotating shifts, but when I had time off, I could go to the NMCRS thrift store and sort clothes.”

Her husband was PCS’d to Guam, where Nina worked as a public health nurse and taught at the University of Guam. Following that tour, they PCS’d to Bermuda, where Nina taught childbirth classes. By the time the family returned to Pensacola in 1987, they had two children. Now a stay-home mom, Nina decided to volunteer a few hours with the Society again as a receptionist.

Like many Navy families, “Mike and I moved a lot,” Nina said. In 1991, the family PCS’d to Okinawa, where Nina became a volunteer caseworker with the Society, and worked for the Red Cross as the director of volunteer nurses. Meanwhile, she earned her master’s degree in administration of community services through Michigan State University’s military extension program.

In 1995, the family returned once again to Pensacola, and Nina served as chair of volunteers at NMCRS Pensacola from 1996-2000. After a brief hiatus from the Society, Nina returned to serve as director of the Pensacola office for two years (2003 and 2004), before her husband retired from the Navy and the Valdez family permanently relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

All those years of experience in a variety of roles and offices within the Society left Nina brimming with ideas about how to help volunteer leaders with their work, so in 2005, she wrote a guide for COVs. In 2006, Nina became an area trainer covering the Society’s Southwest offices, a position she’s held ever since.

“I’ve loved working with every one of my NMCRS offices,” she said. “I’ve truly loved being an area trainer. It’s been a wonderful job for me. The Society has a phenomenal mission and attracts good people. I’ve always enjoyed the combination of professionalism and friendship. I’ve been amazed by the incredible people who walk in our doors and want to help us fulfill our mission. NMCRS doesn’t consider volunteers as something ‘nice to have’ – we see them as integral members of our workforce, and our ability to fulfill our mission and vision.”

“I love the fact that our organization is as much field office driven as headquarters driven,” Nina said. “That is a huge part of our success. “A lot of our military spouse volunteers helped move us into social media by creating Facebook pages for our offices. I love the dynamic of having a core of stable employees – coupled with an influx of young people and retirees with their knowledge of technology and their new ideas.”

“Another thing I love about the Society is that our bread and butter is interest-free loans and grants, but beyond that we truly support the military family unit by helping young professionally-oriented military spouses find a place to continue developing their skills. A lot of spouses found employment after volunteering with us. We’re supporting the Fleet and the Corps in a lot more ways than just loans and grants. We’re strengthening family units.”

Because of the frequent moves required of military families, “effective training and mentoring are essential to our volunteers,” Nina explained. “I love having been a part of that. I love the fact that our training department has kept up with the times, moving into electronic training as well as in-person and classroom style. It’s a perfect blend for a workforce that’s constantly turning over. The other thing I love about training is that what we teach is not only applicable to how we provide services to clients, but also to most of our employees’ and volunteers’ personal lives—it’s a win-win.”

“I remember a young military spouse who came in and said, ‘I want to get out of retail. I’m good at it but it’s all I have on my resume. I have to work weekends and evenings. I just want an office assistant job where I can work 9 to 5 and be with my children.’ I told her she could become a client services assistant, and described the skill sets she would develop that she can put on her resume to market herself for an office setting. We signed a six-month volunteer agreement. In less than 6 months, she said to me, ‘Nina, I got the job! I got a job as an administrative assistant from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, all because of NMCRS. I told my new employer I had committed to you for two more weeks and I couldn’t start until my commitment was over.’ That military spouse was committed from beginning to end.”

Nina recalled talking to another young spouse serving as chair of volunteers about effective leadership skills. “She soaked up everything like a sponge,” Nina said. “She did the job really well for about four months. Then she got a job interview. ‘I answered their questions using everything I learned from NMCRS, and they hired me on the spot,’ she told me. That’s when you know you’ve truly made a difference. I have enjoyed being part of an organization that makes a positive difference in people’s lives.”

You’ve made a difference, Nina Lohr-Valdez! Thank you for your faithful service. Fair winds and following seas!

By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

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