It’s easy for Monika Woods to track her time with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society because, when she started volunteering, her twins were toddlers, and they’ve recently graduated from high school and are off to college. “I kept hearing from a friend in our officer’s spouses group about Navy Relief,” Monika recalled. “She was the NMCRS Jacksonville chair of volunteers and I could tell she enjoyed it. We both had three young kids and she told me that the Society reimbursed for child care when you were volunteering. I had just enrolled my two-year-old twins in preschool and started volunteering at NMCRS Jacksonville. At first it was one day a week for three hours, but the more I volunteered the more I liked it. As my kids got older I picked up another day and added more hours because I was loving what I was doing.”
At various times Monika went from volunteer to employee to volunteer and then eventually to director. She’s primarily volunteered and worked at NMCRS Jacksonville, where she currently serves as director, but she also briefly volunteered at NMCRS Oceana years ago. Even when her husband was stationed in Alabama, nowhere near an NMCRS office, she reached out to the director of the Jacksonville office and volunteered to write articles about the Society for the base newspaper so she could maintain a connection with the Society.
“My time with the Society is sort of like a patchwork quilt, but whatever role I’m in, I can’t think of a better job. Every day is different. Every day you get to go to work and make a difference in someone’s life, do something meaningful with your time and effort, and help others.”
During her tenure with the Society, Monika has seen Sailors and Marines come in with many of the same problems year after year, but increasingly with different expenses than families had to budget for in previous generations. “E5 is what I call our hinge rate—that represents our largest number of clients,” she explained. “By the time someone is advanced to E5 they often have a spouse and a few kids. They would like a second vehicle. And because our culture is so dependent on communications, the expectation is that you have cable and internet and everyone in the family has their own cell phone, often times including kids. That gets expensive. We have talks with clients about wants and needs. However, these items weren’t in the average budget 15 years ago.”
Fortunately, the Society has worked to keep policy in line with Sailors’ and Marines’ practical expenses. “When I first started volunteering, the Society didn’t help clients with cell phone or internet bills. Today, the Society realizes Sailors and Marines might only have a cell phone and the spouse may need internet access to look for employment. We’re a traditional organization that’s been around for 113 years but we have to stay relevant. That means adapting our policies to stay current with modern times.”
What hasn’t changed, however, is the generosity and commitment of Society volunteers. “We’re surrounded with people who are servant leaders,” Monika said. “Everyone that gravitates to NMCRS has one thing in common—we all truly enjoy giving back and helping service members find solutions.”
“I’ve also seen over the years the impact that military spouses who volunteer with the Society actually have on commands. The commands with active Society volunteers usually have very successful active duty fund drives and send their service members to our office for assistance. Their Sailors and Marines feel more connected to the Society. They know us and are comfortable calling us and saying, ‘I’ve got a Sailor here with this problem. Is that something you can help with?’” We become a team together, working towards the same goal, which is financial well-being for the shipmates.
“Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society has been such a bright spot in my life. It gives purpose to every single day. I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like without being part of the Society.”
Congratulations, Monika, on 15 years of service to the Society, and thank you!
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso