In 1986, Kelly was a newly married military spouse, living on Guam—her husband’s first duty station—with their toddler son. “My husband was a helicopter pilot and was deployed all the time,” Kelly recalled. “One of my neighbors told me about the Society and how I could get reimbursed for child care when I volunteered, so I became a receptionist and caseworker, helping clients create personal budgets.”
The family’s next move was to San Diego, California where Kelly worked as an after hour caseworker with the American Red Cross and didn’t have time to volunteer with the Society. When the Barton family PCS’d to Kansas, Kelly volunteered with Army Emergency Relief at Fort Leavenworth as a caseworker. “I was still serving military families,” she said. After several years in Virginia the family, then with three kids, PCS’d to Great Lakes, Illinois where another neighbor invited Kelly to join her in volunteering with the Society. “We were co-chairs of volunteers, and I did casework and helped reorganize the thrift shop,” Kelly explained. “While I volunteered at NMCRS Great Lakes, I got to know the NMCRS Director of Volunteers, Barb Sheffer, through our many phone conversations. When I found out my family would be moving to Washington D.C., Barb told me there was a position opening up at headquarters.”
Kelly worked as an administrative assistant for the headquarters casework department for eight years, supporting caseworkers and trainers. “When Ann Creeden came on board as Director of Training, she asked if I could help the training team develop the NMCRS University online casework training program” In 2016, Kelly became a full-time NMCRS trainer.
Training responsibility for the Society’s 51 offices, located around the globe at USN and USMC bases and installations, is divided among the seven trainers. Fifteen sites fall under Kelly’s purview—those in the Metro DC area (except Quantico); Hampton Roads, Virginia; the Pacific Northwest; Pensacola, Florida; Gulfport, Mississippi; and New Orleans, Louisiana. She visits each site at least twice a year and conducts online training sessions via Skype as needed. “When I’m not traveling, I’m helping to develop new curriculum for NMCRS University,” Kelly explained. “The seven trainers meet once a year to plan new courses they will create in the coming year.” Currently, Kelly is working on a “Mentoring and Coaching” course with online evaluation. “We develop new courses based on the needs we see while we’re in the field offices, and what our staff and volunteers are asking for,” she said. She also responds to calls from field offices having trouble understanding the training or simply have a question.
“I love going out to our offices where I can spend time with caseworkers and help them understand their duties and responsibilities, so that working with the Society is a successful experience. I tell them, ‘You’ve got the talent, you’ve got the knowledge. You just need to learn the Society’s policies and procedures.’ For example, a new volunteer assigned to the office’s front desk, is usually assigned to process Quick Assist Loans®. But when the situation requires our volunteer to go into a private office and close the door to ask the client some difficult questions about their finances, that requires more training. We developed a training notebook with various scenarios and issues clients may have, along with different ways to say no, and how to handle difficult situations. We use real-life scenarios, omitting names and identifying details. Our volunteer may think a client is coming in to the office for help with a simple car repair, but then the client informs her that his mom has cancer and his family is being evicted for failure to pay their rent. We teach our volunteers how to use different types of questions to get at the real problem.”
In addition to understanding NMCRS policy, caseworkers need excellent interpersonal skills. Kelly and her colleagues have started using videos recently developed by USAA Education Foundation to help volunteers and staff deal with difficult and stressful situations. “The video training is really designed to teach those soft skills and how to interact with clients.” Kelly also emphasizes the rationale behind the Society’s -policies and procedures so volunteer caseworkers will understand the importance of what they’re doing and why it’s beneficial for service members and their families to have a consistent experience in any Society office they visit.
Kelly’s husband retired from the military several years ago, but he still works for the federal government. “Now I’m the one who travels and he’s the one who stays home,” she laughed.
“I do love my job. I have the best boss ever and the most phenomenal team of coworkers. We’re all the biggest cheerleaders for each other. We genuinely care about each other and want each other to succeed. I’m grateful.”
Thank you for your dedication to the Society, Kelly, and congratulations on a decade of service!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso