Kathy Nelson, Director, NMCRS Norfolk, 10-year service anniversary
Shortly after landing at Naval Air Facility Misawa, Japan, young Navy officer, Kathy Nelson, received her first assignment for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society from her executive officer—run the Active Duty Fund Drive. Looking back, Kathy said, “I raised a lot of money, but I didn’t do much in terms of raising awareness, because I didn’t understand how important that was. Now that she’s an NMCRS director, Kathy is “very vocal about training our Fund Drive representatives” so they can tell their Shipmates what the Society can do for them.
While Kathy made sure to contribute to the Society throughout her 27 years of active duty in the Navy, it wasn’t until her major command tour at Ft. Meade, Maryland, that she truly understood the breadth of the Society’s services. “We had a small emergency service office, staffed by volunteers, at Ft. Meade. The office was supervised by NMCRS Washington Navy Yard Director, Melodie Weddle. Working with Melodie from 2002 to 2005 gave me a sharper and more personal appreciation of the Society’s work,” Kathy explained.
Serving as protocol assistant to the chief of naval operations in the Pentagon, earning a master’s degree at the Defense Intelligence College (now National Intelligence University), a tour at the National Security Agency and then a move into the cryptologic community, along with assignments in Hawaii and Germany, and two command tours – all contributed to the expertise and experience Kathy brings to her work with the Society.
“I like sharing my perspective with new commanders — the kinds of information about the Society I didn’t know when I started my command tour that would have helped me and might benefit them and the Sailors they work with. I also try to help them better understand the many resources available to them,” Kathy said. “I try to mentor them through circumstances they might encounter.”
Kathy transitioned seamlessly from the military to the Society after she retired. “I knew getting involved in a nonprofit supporting military families would give me meaning,” she said. “My employment objective I wrote in my pre-retirement seminar was a direct match with what NMCRS was looking for.”
One of her first client cases, when she was brand new to the Society, remains fresh in Kathy’s mind. “We were able to help a young Sailor who needed assistance with immigration legal fees,” she recalled. “That wasn’t within our policy, but the circumstances were compelling, and we were able to get an exception.” More recently, Kathy handled the case of a young Sailor who had lost his three-month-old child. “There aren’t words to say that can make it better, but we’re glad to help someone get through the financial aspects of such a difficult situation.”
Over the years, the Society has modified policies in response to changing cultural norms. “Our definition of basic needs has morphed somewhat,” Kathy said. “When I first got here, a cell phone wasn’t considered a “need”. That’s different now. We also see more and more Sailors and Marines who are providing financial support to their parents and siblings. And the widespread availability of credit creates all kinds of challenges. Credit wasn’t that available when I came into the Navy. Unfortunately, I don’t see that trend changing.”
Kathy appreciates the guidance the Society is able to provide above and beyond—or even instead of—a traditional loan. “A young man was going through a horrific child support and visitation challenge with the mother of his young child. He’d done all the right things, provided regular support but had additional legal fees. Although we couldn’t help with his legal fees, he left feeling empowered to help himself,” Kathy explained. “Sometimes, it isn’t the money we provide, but the information, resources and opportunities they wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”
“I remember a Sailor who came in looking for financial assistance to buy a crib and make a car payment. In the process of talking with him, we discovered issues he didn’t even know he had – specifically, that he needed additional car insurance and update to his expired registration. A year or so later, he’d advanced in rate, their healthy baby was born, and everything was on track. It was gratifying to know our support made a difference.”
Kathy is all about sharing information—with clients, with her community, and with commanding officers. “I take advantage of every opportunity to speak and meet with prospective commanding officers and those already in command positions. I’m invited to speak during their training courses so I can share insights about how they can use the Society as a resource. I enjoy talking about the kinds of situations our office sees – the kinds of challenges and circumstances our clients and their Sailors are dealing with. As Navy leaders get to know more about who we are and what we do, we’re building a trusting relationship that helps them consider calling us when they have questions and concerns and challenges – things we might be able to help with.”
Thank you, Kathy, for your many years of service to Sailors, Marines, and their Families!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso