Nearly four decades ago, Gail Nifontoff was a young Navy spouse whose husband was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island. She’d worked briefly as a school teacher but really wanted to move into the banking industry. Knowing she wouldn’t be living in Rhode Island for long, however, she decided to volunteer with what was then Navy Relief, instead of trying to find a job. “I was like a loan counselor,” she recalled. “Kind of like the caseworkers we have now, but not as detailed as what caseworkers do today. Mostly, I remember that we provided help if someone was behind on a bill payment or needed a little extra money to buy food at the commissary.”
Gail also volunteered as a knitter, creating tiny sweaters, booties, and hats for Navy babies, as well as blankets – which the Society still provides to Sea Service families today. “I really enjoyed knitting and I loved working with the folks at Navy Relief and the Sailors that came in for assistance,” she said. “It was an interesting time because that’s when the government shut down happened and the Society helped military families buy food and pay bills. Clients might not have had the big bills they have today, but we were still helping them get through those strenuous times.”
Soon, however, the Nifontoff family PCS’d to San Diego, California where Gail pursued her dream of going into banking. “I began working for a credit union, and one thing that got me the job was my experience with Navy Relief. The credit union liked that I’d worked with people who had financial issues and needed some direction.”
For the next 37 years in San Diego and Washington, DC, Gail focused on her banking and consulting career and raising her son. She no longer had the time to volunteer for the Society; however, she and her husband continued to support the Society financially throughout all those years. When Gail retired a couple years ago, she knew immediately that she wanted to return to the Society. She met with Arlette Mendoza, director of NMCRS MCRD San Diego. Impressed with Gail’s banking background and her 30 years as a military spouse, Mendoza knew that Gail could understand what NMCRS clients were going through and how the Society could help them.
Gail serves as a caseworker at NMCRS MCRD San Diego. “Being a caseworker is so much broader than what I did with the Society years ago. It’s more like what I did in banking as a loan officer. I love working with young Sailors and their spouses, and I hope I’m making an impact on their lives.”
Gail volunteers with the Society one or two days each week, and with the Armed Services YMCA. When she’s not volunteering, Gail spends as much time as possible with her four grandchildren who live in Arlington, Virginia.
“So far, I’ve been focused on casework, but I will start knitting again. The Society is a great organization. I volunteer to give back and pay it forward at the same time.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso