During infantry training, new Marines’ time is not their own. Demanding schedules and weeks at a time in the field mean Marines are focused entirely on the mission. That’s why it can be dangerously easy for Marines to overlook bills or make late payments, which can result in financial instability at a critical time in their military careers. Thankfully, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society does whatever it can to help young Marines solve problems before they get out of hand.
When Donna Miranda became director of NMCRS Camp Pendleton North, she realized that her office needed to be extremely flexible to accommodate the needs of infantry clients. “When they come in, we need to be able to see them right away, and take care of their issues, because they might not be able to return for several weeks,” explained Donna. “But because of their training schedule, they often have big financial issues when they come in, because bills were piling up while they were in the field.”
Cases at Camp Pendleton North can take significantly longer than in some other offices because of the cascading effects of one financial mistake. For example, Donna explained, “When someone comes in for a vehicle repair, it’s usually $3000 instead of a few hundred dollars. They try to buy used vehicles to save money, but don’t get good cars. When we go through the process of verifying the information about the vehicle, we see their insurance was canceled because they missed a payment. We have to help them find new insurance before we can help with the repair. Or their registration expired, and their car was impounded as a result, so we have to help them register the vehicle and get it back.”
Keeping the Camp Pendleton North office open at hours convenient to her clients requires Donna to maintain an active and flexible volunteer force. “I have a wonderful volunteer force,” she said. “They are available morning or afternoon and on call if something comes up. Our RSA has a different schedule every day. Our team is phenomenal.” The volunteer roster at NMCRS Camp Pendleton North currently includes 15 active volunteers, about half of whom are retired military or military spouses, and the other half are civilians from the community who want to contribute.
Donna and her volunteers are working with commands to help educate Marines and Sailors about the importance of seeking help before a sticky financial situation becomes totally overwhelming. For example, if a service member misses one car payment, bringing their account current might not be too difficult. But if they’ve missed three payments in a row, their car could be repossessed. “It’s not that the service members are necessarily ignoring their bills, but if they’re away for several weeks, or sent to another base for a training exercise, they might not even be seeing their mail,” Donna said. For married Marines, the stress of being an infantry Marine can be magnified by a lack of communications about financial obligations.
“Everyone thinks of the Society as where to go if you’re in trouble, but our goal is to educate service members about how to become financially self-sufficient. We can’t fix every problem, but we can teach them how to read their LES, look at a budget, and make progress,” Donna said. “They may not all get financial assistance from the Society, but they’ll get financial education.”
At the same time that she’s working to educate Marines and Sailors, Donna is educating volunteers. “I have always said that everyone can learn this job,” she said. “You just need the desire to learn. I leave the office a lot to meet with commands and do briefs. This year my team conducted 100 briefs, so I have to empower the volunteers and help them understand it’s their office too and they should take pride in it. We can do amazing things as a team. I can’t provide $800,000 of assistance a year without them!”
Donna is also proud of her initiative to change the name of her office from NMCRS San Onofre to NMCRS Camp Pendleton North about two years ago. “Since the name change, we’ve experienced a positive feedback from the commands and service members,” Donna said.
Congratulations on 10 years of service to the Society Donna, and thank you!
Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso