Sam and Aya Espiritu

Sam and Aya Espiritu

By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

When the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, causing a meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, Aya Espiritu watched the news, powerless to help. A native of Japan, Espiritu was living 6,000 miles away in Portsmouth, Virginia, at the time. “My cousins and aunt and uncle lived in Fukushima,” she explained. “They lost their house and had to evacuate. It was devastating. I wanted to do something to help my country and my family, and I wanted to give back to the people who helped my family in Japan, so I decided to volunteer for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.”

Espiritu learned about the Society from the military spouses’ organization in Portsmouth, where her husband was stationed at the time. At first she didn’t think she would be able to volunteer because she had two young children, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Society reimbursed volunteers for child care expenses.

“I started as a client services assistant and I did casework,” she recalled. “And I taught Budget for Babies classes.” When the family PCS’d to Okinawa, Japan, Espiritu continued to volunteer, but in a new role.

“In Japan I actually worked with Japanese spouses of American Marines who didn’t speak much English,” she said. “I did one-on-one Budget for Baby and Japanese spouse orientation classes.” She also served as a temporary relief services assistant at NMCRS Okinawa.

After a three-year tour, the family returned to Virginia, where Espiritu returned to doing NMCRS casework. “There are Japanese spouses here too, but they’re kind of isolated from taking advantage of their military benefits because of the language barrier. Because I understand more English, I have more information. Sometimes my Japanese friends call me with questions, and I do research and tell them what resources are available. That’s another reason I wanted to volunteer for the Society, so I could know what was out there.”

Espiritu has enjoyed working with a wide range of clients in NMCRS Portsmouth and Okinawa. “My husband is in the Navy and works at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, so at NMCRS Portsmouth I saw a lot of service members from the hospital. In Okinawa I saw a lot of young Marines, so it was a different clientele. They were 18 years old and living in a foreign country and having an emergency –  there was nowhere else for them to go besides the Society. It was very rewarding to help them.”

Her children are now ages nine and seven, so they occasionally visit Espiritu at the NMCRS office. “When we were in Okinawa, my son would come in and sort coupons,” she said. “When my daughter comes into the office, she wants the chocolates. She knows I volunteer to help people learn about money and how to save money. When she was in preschool they had a pretend shopping day. I asked her, “What did you buy?’ She said, ‘I didn’t spend anything because you taught me that you’re supposed to save money!’”

Thank you, Aya Espiritu, for teaching the principles of personal financial management through your words and actions.

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