When Marines or sailors suffer a crisis and need help, there is a resource to assist. This resource is the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and they could use a stronger buy-in to stay relevant themselves.
The mission of the NMCRS is to provide, in partnership with the Navy and Marine Corps, financial, educational and other assistance to members of the Naval Services of the United States, eligible family members and survivors when in need and to receive and manage funds to administer these programs.
There are NMCRS field offices at Navy and Marine Corps bases worldwide. The Society has an office at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany located in the Base Headquarters building.
"All Marines and sailors need help from time to time in dealing with life's emergencies and in education on finances,” Col. Michael Fitzgerald, commanding officer, MCLB Albany, said. “NMCRS aids the Marines and sailors during their time of need. NMCRS is not just for emergencies but also to provide in-depth financial education enabling service personnel to look beyond today and well in the future.”
“They are a force multiplier allowing Marines and sailors to focus on the mission during stressful periods."
The Albany location is a limited service office overseen by the field office at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in the coastal region of Kings Bay, Georgia. The Quick Assist Loan service is the most popular in Albany, followed by other financial assistance and education.
“We are here to assist, to offer need-based assistance,” Brooke Grossmann, a volunteer at the Albany office, said. “We serve active duty and retirees, and for retirees we can refer them to a point of contact for their respective branch.”
“We want to make sure people have the support if they need it, to let folks know we are here,” she added.
Grossmann and Briahna McAninch are the two sole volunteers in the Albany office. This is why it is a limited services location.
“We try to do same-day appointments, but cannot if we are otherwise engaged,” McAninch said.
As a non-profit, volunteer service organization, the Society uses both financial and non-financial resources to identify solutions to meet emerging needs. This can include establishing connections with similar resources outside the MCLB Albany fence line when necessary.
The main goal is to help each person who comes to NMCRS get support for their immediate needs. The Society’s long-term mission is to help sailors and Marines become financially self-sufficient by learning how to better manage their personal finances and prepare for unplanned expenses.
“You can’t focus on the mission if you are worried about home life,” McAninch said.
McAninch and Grossmann assist clients with loans, conduct briefs on NMCRS to commands on MCLB Albany and offer financial literacy and counseling. An increase in volunteer support, including those with previous volunteer experience, could mean an expansion of services.
“We are limited in what we can do in Albany because of (fewer) volunteers,” Grossmann said. “We need a team of different people who can help more with various talents and backgrounds.”
“We are open to retiree spouses. They can still plug in,” she added.
Whatever is talked about in the office stays in the office. It’s a judgment-free zone.
“There is 100% confidentiality between us and the client unless the command needs to know,” Grossmann said. “The volunteers are there for the client.”
“Once it is in the office it stays in the office,” she continued. “There is no need to be ashamed.”
The services Grossmann and McAninch cannot offer, including the Budget for Baby program, are referred to the Kings Bay office.
Those in urgent need of funding may be eligible for a QAL for an unplanned financial situation. Eligible recipients may receive a check for an interest-free QAL for any amount up to $500 which must be paid back within 10 months. Active-duty service members are also eligible to apply for traditional financial assistance including free budget counseling and education to determine the amount of financial assistance needed, and a customized repayment plan.
To apply for a QAL, individuals must be an active-duty sailor or Marine, have enough time left on their contract to repay the loan, have no unpaid or outstanding interest-free loans from the Society and have no disciplinary actions in the past six months, or pending, impacting pay or rank.
The NMCRS Education Program offers grants and interest-free loans for undergraduate or master's degree students at an accredited two- or four-year post-secondary, technical or vocational institution in the U.S. This financial assistance is available for children of active duty, retired or deceased sailors and Marines who are under age 23 at the application deadline, spouses of active duty and retired sailors and Marines and active duty sailors and Marines enrolled in the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program or Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program.
The Society determines the amount provided to the applicant and funds are payable and provided to the student’s academic institution. Funds are to be used only for tuition, books, fees and room and board.
Traveling to be with a sick or dying loved one often requires transportation. Active-duty sailors or Marines, eligible family members with a military identification card, surviving spouses or reservists on extended active duty of 30 days or more who are approved for emergency leave and need the money to travel can receive an interest-free loan.
“We had a situation like that recently and we aim to expedite these requests so the service member does not stress,” Grossmann said. “We want to help them get on a plane or on the road as quickly as possible to get to their loved ones.”
The Society can also help with homes affected by a hurricane, tornado, flood, fire or other disaster. If the service member’s base is evacuated and they need to leave quickly or if they cannot stay in their home, NMCRS can fund the purchase of items such as gas, temporary lodging, food, diapers and baby formula. Those recovering from a disaster can receive interest-free loans to pay for insurance deductibles or replace lost items.
A caseworker will help identify post-disaster needs and service members will learn about local resources to help replace lost items. Caseworkers may also approve an interest-free disaster loan from NMCRS.
Volunteers have been the backbone of the Society for more than 100 years, making up more than 90 percent of its workforce. Volunteers make it possible for donated funds to directly assist sailors, Marines and their families.
When service members seek assistance, they often interact directly with a skilled volunteer.
“We are taking a burden away,” Grossman said. “I volunteered in Okinawa and I had a Marine come in whose child needed medical transportation. We were able to grant some expenses.”
“Knowing we are able to eliminate stress brings gratification for us.”
Educating clients to make smarter decisions can go a long way, too.
“I had a retiree couple whose air conditioner went out in the summer,” McAninch said. “They were quoted with a $3,000 on the repair. We had them get a second opinion, which estimated $500.”
“They ended up not needing our assistance.”
McAninch noted that loan repayment comes out of the recipient’s paycheck, giving them one less thing to be concerned about.
“They don’t have to do anything to repay the loan,” she said.
McAninch said there is a retiree who calls into the Albany NMCRS office for every active-duty service member. The traffic in Albany is not as heavy as it could be related to other duty stations, but there definitely is a need.
“We don’t feel like we are being bombarded, so we can learn our role,” Grossmann said.
Grossmann said she sees a need extending beyond Albany.
“You don’t have to be stationed at Albany to receive assistance,” she said. “We have helped with recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and a Marine stationed in Florida at an Air Force base.”
“When you volunteer here you are getting plugged into the community.”
McAninch has found a similar experience.
“It helps you make connections,” she said.
Volunteers receive specialized training, get extensive support and resources, connect with other volunteers and build friendships, get assistance with child- and dependent-care and mileage expenses, help others and make a difference and build experience to add to a resume.
In Albany, there is also the chance for more meaningful client interactions.
“With slower traffic in Albany we can take the time to get to know our clients,” McAninch said.
Financial assistance and counseling is one of the most important services the Society provides. Casework volunteers interact directly with clients, providing suggestions and guidance to help them make wise decisions and improve their financial situation. From setting up appointments and providing assistance to walk-in clients to meeting with clients one-on-one, there are many different opportunities for casework volunteers.
“I think a lot of folks don’t know we’re here. They may have heard of us but don’t understand how it works,” said McAninch.
Caseworkers help in difficult situations and provide hope and direction for military families.
“We are looking for people eager to help, to fill in the gaps,” Grossmann said. “And it is resume building. It is good for anyone who wants to grow and work with others.”
“By having more volunteers, our availability can be more open. We can still answer calls and be a walk-in service,” she added.
The office’s current status means Grossmann and McAninch are available by appointment only, but they both hope that can be reevaluated.
“(More volunteers) allows us to be more readily available,” McAninch said.
As of Dec. 31, 2021 there was $160.42 million in assets in the Society overall, audited financial statements from Johnson Lambert show. There was $34.38 million in revenue with $26.08 million in expenses, including $21.77 million devoted to serving clients.
In 2020 there was $22.37 million in expenses including $18.3 million committed to client services. The statements show NMCRS’s field offices had $15.33 million in loans outstanding at the end of 2021.
The roots of NMCRS go back to World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized a public appeal for support to benefit the military relief associations, helping to establish the Society’s Reserve Fund in 1942.
Visit nmcrs.org for more information on Society office locations and what the organization offers.