Maria Connelly wasn’t just a volunteer at NMCRS North Island on Naval Base Coronado. She was a surrogate mom, a party planner, an advocate, and a cheerleader. “Maria is hardwired to be a servant leader,” said North Island Director Traci Schuck. “She sets the example for others to be kind and to love everybody, no matter what the circumstance.”
Before retiring from her volunteer work with NMCRS, Maria was presented a Meritorious Service award from the Society for her nearly 11,000 hours of faithful volunteer service over the past 37 years, including the past 22 years at NMCRS North Island. Maria was born in Egypt and became a naturalized American citizen after marrying Russ, a USN man. When her husband retired, Maria chose to stay on as a volunteer.
Maria’s primary role at NMCRS North Island was as thrift shop shift supervisor. “She was a pillar of our thrift shop,” said North Island Chair of Volunteers Baby Anduze. Before North Island, Maria volunteered at the NMCRS London thrift shop. At North Island, she devoted approximately 30 hours a month to organizing merchandise and helping thrift shop customers.
“She welcomed everyone who came into the thrift shop—both patrons and volunteers—saying, ‘We’re here for you and this is what we do,’” explained Baby. “If you came in looking for a specific uniform, she’d be the first to volunteer to go into the uniform area and help you find it,” said Traci.
“If she knew someone was sick or having a hard time, Maria took them under her wing,” said Baby. “Maria would send a get well card and call to check up on people. She wasn’t only an amazing volunteer, but an amazing person.” Maria was the Thursday shift supervisor and began what became a tradition of potluck lunch parties for her Thursday volunteers.
NMCRS North Island’s thrift shop is actually located 13 miles away from the NMCRS office, at the Outlying Landing Field (OLF) Imperial Beach. “The distance makes it challenging to support those volunteers, and when they need supplies it takes extra effort to get to them,” Traci explained. “But Maria was always trying to rally everyone to help out, support the staff and other volunteers. She’s always understood how the whole team has to work together. She would even drive thrift shop volunteers from Imperial Beach to North Island to receive awards or attend our office functions.”
Maria was also instrumental in ensuring a recent leadership change was as seamless as possible. “Recently, one of our thrift shop leads who had been there for 20 years, resigned. I had just become the chair of volunteers. Maria was so welcoming and helpful. We were able to successfully transition to a new thrift shop lead because Maria pitched in and set the right example,” said Baby Anduze.
When news of Maria’s retirement spread, neighbors – including firemen from the unit next door to the thrift shop, customers, volunteers, and service members started coming to the thrift shop to say farewell and give Maria hugs. “She was like the head of the family,” said Baby. “She believed in our mission. She is good-hearted and warm. Everyone could see the affection and love they all shared for Maria.”
“Maria’s impact has gone far beyond the mission of the Society,” Traci said. “Her ability to see the big picture, to appreciate and include everyone in the community, and to share her love with all of us goes totally above and beyond simply being a volunteer.”
Thank you, Maria, for your many years of dedicated volunteer service.