Natalie Van Cleave and her husband Jordan were high school sweethearts. They started dating in 2005, were married in 2009, and had their first child—Abigail—in 2011. “There were complications when my daughter was born, which cost a lot and made us think hard about the future,” Natalie recalled. “Jordan came home from work one day and said he’d been thinking about joining the Navy. He was working 16-hour shifts, 7 days a week, making good money. I was working 10-hour shifts, 5 days a week. But we didn’t have good health insurance. He said if he joined the Navy, we would have good medical care for our family and we could see the world. I decided if it was something he wanted to do I wasn’t going to stand in his way. It turns out it was the best decision he could’ve made.”
After Jordan reported to submarine school, Natalie and Abigail joined him in Groton, Connecticut, where they lived for a year. The family then PCS’d to Kings Bay, Georgia where Jordan was serving on the USS Georgia Gold. “I met another Navy wife who volunteered for NMCRS who kept inviting me to volunteer,” she said. “But I was pregnant with my son Deacon and didn’t want to start yet. After Deacon was born, she reminded me that the Society pays for child care when you’re volunteering. She brought me into the office in September 2016 and I felt instantly welcomed.
“I started off as a client services assistant, and about four months in, NMCRS Kings Bay Director Megan O’Connell offered me the CSA lead position,” she said. “I shadowed the outgoing CSA lead and then took over. I was also doing communications and coordinating a lot of events on base. I volunteered to organize the festival of trees. Navy MWR would get 50 artificial trees and any organization that wanted to could come and claim a tree to decorate. The best decorated tree would earn a prize. Our tree was themed “Feed the Pig.” We used plastic pigs left over from another event and spray painted them gold. We glued fake money to their mouths and decorated the tree with 100 ways to save money during the holiday season.”
Natalie continued volunteering in Kings Bay until the last day before her family PCS’d to Whidbey Island in January 2019. After settling in, she signed up to do casework and serve as a client services assistant at NMCRS Whidbey Island. She was also the Budget for Baby® lead. Unfortunately, due to family illnesses, Natalie had to take a few months off from volunteering. She has recently returned to the office and is volunteering while her kids are in school. She has begun level three casework training.
“When I see clients or give briefs, I always start off talking about being a military spouse. I feel what these people are going through because I have those issues too. There are times when I see a military spouse break down in tears. I remind her that she’s not the only one to be dealing with financial challenges and that these things happen more often than you think.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso