When one of Ester Johnson’s in-laws asked how she was able to adapt to moving so frequently as the spouse of a Navy chaplain, she immediately explained what the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is and does. “Every place you move is so unique and different,” she said, “but I can walk into an NMCRS office and know what I’m doing and have instant family. Within the first 15 minutes of walking into the NMCRS Newport office, I was doing casework. I’m confident in what I’m doing, and I love it.”
Ester volunteered for the Society in six different cities on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States, in the Midwest, and in Spain before becoming director of the Society’s office in Newport, Rhode Island.
With a bachelor’s degree in family consumer science and a master’s in secondary education, Ester was excited to receive the Accredited Financial Counselor scholarship from FINRA to continue developing her professional skills. “We were in Camp Lejeune when I was awarded the AFC scholarship, and in order to get the 1,000 hours of practical experience I needed, I contacted the NMCRS Camp Lejeune office to volunteer,” Ester said. “I completed my full 1,000 hours in my first year there while my husband was deployed.”
Volunteering as a caseworker in a busy Society office, Ester gained knowledge about a wide variety of client requests and types of cases. “That experience was key in developing my understanding of what the Society does,” she said.
From there, Ester and her family PCSed to Rota, where they were stationed for three years, and Ester volunteered at NMCRS Rota. She continued to volunteer with the Society wherever they moved, including at NMCRS Great Lakes, NMCRS Bremerton, and NMCRS Bangor. In Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, she opened an emergency service office for the Society and then moved to Newport, where she volunteered for a year before taking over the director position.
“I love the mentoring aspect of volunteering for the Society. I’ve had some excellent mentors, many of whom are now fellow directors. I appreciate that the Society has seen it’s worth investing in us.”
“Becoming a director seemed like the natural flow of what comes next,” Ester said. “I appreciate that the position in Newport is part-time, because I still have three kids at home. My oldest is finishing college and will be commissioned in the Marine Corps next year. My husband’s schedule is demanding when he’s instructing. This position gives me the opportunity to take the next step in my career and still have time to be a good wife and mom.”
Because Newport is a training base and service members are typically stationed there for less than a year, it can be challenging to sustain a reliable cadre of volunteers at NMCRS Newport. Ester is working to recruit new volunteers and caseworkers while taking care of client needs. “We see a lot of pay problems because students are moving up and becoming officers, but it can take a while for their pay to catch up with their promotions. When we can help in a tangible way, it’s instantly gratifying. When they get that help you can see the relief on their faces.”
Ester works closely with all the commands on base and cultivates strong relationships with the school houses to ensure that service members know where to go when they need help. “I try to get them in as quickly as I can, and do whatever I can to help,” she said.
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso