By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Although she was in graduate school pursuing her master’s degree in public administration, Arlette Plascencia Mendoza figured when her youngest child started preschool in 2009 that she had a few extra hours in her day to volunteer. She recalled a flyer for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society she’d received as a newlywed during a Navy Spouse 101 class she’d taken, so she walked in to the nearest NMCRS office at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and filled out an application. “We lived in base housing less than five minutes away,” she explained.
Once she started, Arlette climbed through the ranks of volunteers quickly. “I started out as a client services assistant, chair of records, and I also did casework,” Arlette explained. “I discovered my passion was casework. Then I was asked to be chair of volunteers.” Meanwhile, Arlette completed her master’s degree, but when she graduated, unemployment in San Diego had reached an historic high. Facing a dismal job market and enjoying her volunteer work, she just stayed on at NMCRS. She was eventually hired as a Relief Services Assistant at the North Island office in 2014. In May she was hired as director of NMCRS MCRD San Diego.
NMCRS is not the only beneficiary of Arlette’s commitment to service members. “I serve as an ombudsman for my husband’s command,” she said. “I’ve served continuously since 2011 and I’m also an ombudsman trainer. I get to mentor new ombudsmen. I’ve always had a passion for volunteering and helping others, especially in the military community.” Arlette has passed that spirit of service on to her kids, now ages 10 and 11. “When I was volunteering here at MCRD they would help, and I’m pretty sure they will in the future,” she said.
As director of NMCRS MCRD San Diego, one of Arlette’s main priorities was to increase the numbers of volunteers supporting her office. “By connecting with the family readiness officers and volunteer coordinator on base, I was able to successfully recruit new volunteers, both active duty and Navy and Marine spouses. Thankfully, I now have a steady volunteer base, which makes my job much easier!” Arlette has scheduled her first teambuilding event as director and is looking to training along with her volunteers.
“We’re a small training base, and we occasionally see recruits and drill instructors,” Arlette explained. “We also service clients from NMCRS offices in San Diego, Miramar, North Island [where Arlette’s husband, an aviation electrician, is stationed], and Point Loma. We have a lot of clients who come in for a QAL to help pay for their basic living expenses, or items needed to set up a new household because they’ve just PCS’d to this area, and emergency car repairs.”
Some of our client’s needs are more unusual, Arlette explained, but no less important. While working as an RSA at NMCRS North Island, a young Marine who had been injured in Afghanistan came in to the office. “He was in the process of being medically retired or separated from the USMC,” Arlette recalled. “He had had several surgeries to resolve his back issues. He had a letter from his military doctor saying every medical procedure had been tried—surgery, chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, medication—but the Marine still had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, literally.” His doctor recommended the Marine purchase a therapeutic bed as part of his pain management treatment. The Marine had shopped around and the lowest price was a few thousand dollars. The Semper Fi Fund had granted a portion, and he was asking NMCRS for the difference. “Hearing his story brought tears to my eyes. He was married and wanted to have a family. He said the bed would make a huge difference in his life. I called headquarters and advocated for him to receive a waiver to policy. He was provided a grant to purchase the much-needed therapeutic bed.”
“That’s why I’m so proud to be part of this organization. I know we make a difference every day,” Arlette said.