Rafia Hinkson was born to work for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Rafia’s father spent 20 years in the Navy, and her mother Renee began volunteering for the Society when Rafia was an infant. Renee would later become a Society employee. So Rafia always knew about the Society and how it helped Sailors and Marines and their families.
“I really like it when numbers add up.” Rafia explained. “Because of my mom’s time with the Society, I was always into saving money and personal financial management.”
Even as a high school student when her family was stationed in Okinawa, Rafia volunteered at the NMCRS office on Camp Foster. Her father was an aviator and the family lived on Kadena Air Base, but Rafia made the trip to Camp Foster every week. “I love Japan,” Rafia said. “We moved to Japan when I was 10 years old. It was really where I grew up. We lived in mainland Japan for two years, and then in Okinawa.”
Rafia graduated from high school while living in Japan, but her dad still had three years left of his assignment there, so she also stayed and attended college classes remotely through the University of Maryland. After earning her associate’s degree, she got a job with the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).
Around that time Rafia met her husband, who was stationed on Okinawa on his first tour with the Air Force. They married while he was on liberty in Oregon during a one-year unaccompanied tour in Korea, after which the couple PCS’d to Aviano Air Base Italy. Rafia attended classes again through the University of Maryland and continued to work for AAFES.
Returning stateside, Rafia’s husband—now Air Force Major Marvin Hinkson—was stationed at the Pentagon and Rafia leapt at the chance to start volunteering at NMCRS Navy Yard. “After three-and-a-half years of volunteering there, I completed all my casework training and became a caseworker,” Rafia said. “It was an interesting office to work at because I got a lot of experience with different kinds of cases. I realized I really like thinking about numbers and money and how people can be better at managing their money. Helping Sailors and Marines one-on-one so they can survive and thrive really appealed to me. I like the financial counseling and educational aspect. You don’t have to be a millionaire to live a good life and live within your means.”
Eager to take on more responsibility, Rafia volunteered to keep the accounting records for three NMCRS thrift shops located on Joint Base Anacostia Bolling, Naval Station Annapolis, and Lakehurst Maxfield Field, New Jersey. She volunteered in that capacity for two and a half years.
Recently, Major Hinkson was assigned to attend the Naval War College and the family PCS’d to Newport, Rhode Island. Rafia soon learned that the director of NMCRS Newport was also preparing to PCS and the job would be vacant so she applied, was hired, and began as director, NMCRS Newport on July 2, 2018. There are many Navy schools on Naval Station Newport and many students and their families PCS to and from the base in the summertime.
“My first task is to recruit volunteers to help in the office. NMCRS Newport has a very transient volunteer population because Naval Station Newport is one of the Navy’s major schools command,” Rafia explained, “to include The Naval War College, the Naval Academy Prep School, the Navy Justice School, the Supply Corps School, Officer Candidate School. Students are assigned to Newport for several weeks or months and then they’re assigned to another duty station.”
By contrast, NMCRS Newport’s thrift shop is operated by a seasoned group of long-time volunteers. Rafia hopes to create a cohesive volunteer team and better integrate the thrift shop and office volunteers.
“I would like to see volunteers who provide casework in the office have a closer relationship with thrift shop volunteers,” she said. “One of the things I’ve always loved about the Society is the training that’s offered – anyone can train for any volunteer position they want to serve in. You don’t have to have any special skill or background. You can learn to do just about any job – from sorting clothes to doing clerical work to answering phones to doing casework.”
Rafia is excited about providing those learning opportunities to a new cadre of volunteers she is recruiting for NMCRS Newport. Her husband is part of an international student program. The Naval War College hosts service members from 56 countries. Spouses who accompany their military husbands aren’t eligible for U.S. employment so most spend their time improving their English language skills – and are potential Society volunteers. As someone who grew up with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Rafia knows how meaningful volunteering with the Society can be, and she is determined to provide a similar opportunity for personal growth, enrichment, and personal fulfillment to others who volunteer to be part of NMCRS Newport.
Welcome to the Society, Rafia!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso