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Tamara Dickerson, volunteer of the quarter for the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society on Okinawa, shows off a Baby's First Seabag, a gift they give to parents who attend the Budget For Babies class.
Tamara Dickerson, volunteer of the quarter for the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society on Okinawa, shows off a Baby's First Seabag, a gift they give to parents who attend the Budget For Babies class. (Mark Oliva / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Call them the rescue force for the force-in-readiness.

The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is a charity helping sailors and Marines in times of need. But instead of being the “go-to” guys for problems, the nonprofit is looking to be the “went-there” group to keep servicemembers from dire straits.

The relief society steps in to aid with financial distress, offer budgeting tips, help with preparations for expanding families and even assist military widows.

“Our vision is to be working with commands to provide a means by which families can become self-sufficient,” said Sam Lewis, director for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society on Okinawa. “We’re not a part of the command, but we work closely with them.”

The relief society says it hopes for a day when sailors and Marines won’t need their help to bail them out of money crunches. But their national monetary figures for 2001 indicate that day won’t come anytime soon.

That year, the relief society received more than $10 million in donations, which let it dole out more than $40 million in short-term, no-interest loans.

“Those numbers go up continuously,” Lewis said. “That’s a substantial number, but we also spend a lot of our time providing referral services, doing budgeting classes and anywhere else we can help. Our last resort is to write a check.”

One of the relief society’s biggest pushes has been the Budgets for Babies class. It’s the down-and-dirty on just what those diapers will cost and what lifestyle changes new parents might have to consider.

“Most of the folks we see, being younger, do not have a lot of financial experience,” Lewis said. “Finances are briefly covered in boot camp. These are sometimes hard adjustments for people to understand.”

Most of the time, commands refer sailors and Marines to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society after becoming aware of those troops’ problems.

“The commands are going to see it long before we do,” said Heather Lilly, chairperson of volunteers. Sailors and Marines struggling with their finances “may be surprised to learn, after we sit down with them, that $1.50 they’re spending [on] coffee each day” adds up to $45 a month. “That’s a simple change to make.”

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society officials are stepping up efforts to train senior enlisted members to offer financial guidance to the lower ranks.

“We work closely with the command to provide briefs and encourage Marines to sit down with our counselors,” Lewis said.

“We do in-depth instruction to teach staff noncommissioned officers how to do budgets for their Marines. Ideally, that’s where the training should be. Budgeting doesn’t mean something’s gone bad.” A budget, he said, “can help anybody.”

The society also has programs for spouses’ tuition assistance, boosting traffic through the relief society’s office to a few hundred within a two-week period.

Lewis is trying to promote the Widow’s Supplemental Income Program, too. It helps widows old enough to collect Social Security benefits. He said he knows almost 170 military widows or widowers live on Okinawa alone, but he’s seen just two come for assistance in the past four years.

“Very seldom do they come in,” Lewis said. “It’s a once-a-year application where we can supplement the finances for those on fixed incomes. We just don’t get them in asking for assistance.”

Lewis speculated that many are Japanese-speaking and might not be aware of the program, but he said translators are available.

“We’ll do almost anything in our power to help out the sailors and Marines and their families,” Lewis added.

Finding help

To find Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society locations around the Pacific, visit:

Don’t need help? You can help out

The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society on Okinawa is looking for a few good … volunteers.

The aid group that helps Marines and sailors sort out everything from learning how to budget child costs to providing no-interest loans for emergencies needs a little help itself.

“We need all kinds of volunteers,” said Amy Cornelison, the society’s recruiting chairperson. “We need help with working parties to clean and sort out storage areas. We need woodworking. If somebody wants to volunteer, we’ll find them something to do.”

Even if it’s just picking up the mail, Cornelison said.

“There’s no shortage of work,” said Sam Lewis, director of Okinawa’s Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. “The more volunteers we’ve got, the more we can do.”

The relief society on Okinawa is made up of 32 active volunteers and two full-time employees. They watch the phones, attend tower meetings, provide financial counseling and undertake almost any other task necessary to fulfill the relief society’s mission.

The volunteers include active-duty servicemembers, spouses and even some family members and civilians.

Cornelison said volunteers can ask to work in a specific position to benefit their résumés, and child-care costs are reimbursable.

The relief society specifically needs help with financial casework, reception, publicity, recruiting and crocheting layettes. Also needed: woodworkers, mail delivery and someone to work with Okinawa’s retiree community.

For more information or to volunteer, call 645-7808.

— Mark Oliva


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