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Angel Person, left, director of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, and her volunteer staff, which includes Lyn Pipkin, right, managed 145 separate cases of help for servicemembers with financial needs in 2003, disbursing $67,435 in loans and grants.
Angel Person, left, director of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, and her volunteer staff, which includes Lyn Pipkin, right, managed 145 separate cases of help for servicemembers with financial needs in 2003, disbursing $67,435 in loans and grants. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — For 100 years, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society has been a financial safety net for servicemembers and their families.

Arranging loans, tuition assistance, emergency grants and budget counseling, branches at U.S. military installations worldwide are observing the 100th birthday of the society, which started Jan. 23, 1904.

A reception and birthday party is planned at 5 p.m. Friday at Harbor View Club. Base community members are welcome to attend, said Angel Person of the Sasebo branch relief society office.

Person and Gillian Connon, the organization’s mainland Japan director, reviewed the total assistance disbursed in recent years.

From 2001 through 2003, Connon said, branches at mainland Japan bases issued almost $2 million in interest-free loans and grants such as spouse tuition assistance, Connon said.

The 2003 total reached $583,924 in assistance for active-duty personnel and family members, Connon said. The relief society also disbursed $725,429 in loans, scholarships and grants in 2002 at mainland Japan operations, and $656,300 in 2001.

A hundred years ago this Friday, 19 volunteers in Washington, D.C., began the society, according to organization literature. The organization officially changed its name in 1991 to Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

Through the first century, it provided more than $1 billion in interest-free loans and grants to more than 3 million active-duty and retired sailors, Marines and their families, organization literature shows. More than 3,000 volunteers serve the organization.

Person, 32, joined the Sasebo relief society team 2½ years ago as a volunteer. Six months later, when Sasebo branch director transferred with his wife to another duty station, she was offered the position. Person is the only paid staff member; volunteers make up most of the organization.

Person said “about 95 percent” of the assistance her branch provides is in the form of loans, followed by scholarships awarded as spouse tuition assistance.

Most years, she said, grants for emergency relief make up the smallest percentage of funds disbursed.

Tuition assistance is “only available overseas,” Person said, and is limited to $300 per semester and based on approximate full-time tuition.

Emergency grant amounts are more difficult to predict, she said. “Here in Sasebo there are times when we go for a short time without many people needing the assistance,” she said. “That seems to be because people in Sasebo are generally self-sufficient.”

The base has only about 3,000 active-duty personnel. Still, the Sasebo office disbursed $66,924 in 2001, $46,352 in 2002 and $67,435 in 2003 for grants, loans and tuition assistance, said Person and Connon.

Lyn Pipkin, wife of Chief Petty Officer John Pipkin of the minesweeper USS Guardian, volunteers at least 10 hours each week as chairman of the Sasebo office’s volunteer staff of six. All have been on board more than a year, including one for five years and another for seven.

“I enjoy the time I spend volunteering here because I like to feel like what I’m involved with is actually helping people in some meaningful way,” said Pipkin, the mother of Linmarie, 12, and Nicole, 6.

“The directors are virtually always spouses of servicemembers,” Person said. “Particularly overseas where the director is going to be a local hire.”

Her husband is master-at-arms Chief Petty Officer Chuck Person, and they have two children — son Sam, 11 and daughter Taylor, 10. The family leaves Sasebo in March for the chief’s new assignment at Atlanta Naval Air Station.

Person would like to see more people use the organization’s confidential budget counseling she and some of the specially trained volunteers perform.

“With that aspect of personal finances, we don’t want to be their last resort, but the first resort,” she noted.

For additional information on the organization, log onto www.nmcrs.org.

The breakdown ...

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Japan Director Gillian Connon said the organization has provided a total of $1.97 million in tuition assistance and grants during the last three years.

Here’s the breakdown for the disbursements (the total figure includes other assistance such as loans).

2001:Tuition assistance, $125,000; grants, $1,350; total, $656,300.2002:Tuition assistance, $110,000; grants, $118,000; total, $725,429.2003:Tuition assistance, $71,000; grants, $11,000; total, $583,924.During that time, $180,711 was spent on 383 cases at Sasebo Naval Base.

Here’s how the Sasebo figures break down, according to Connon and Sasebo Office Director Angel Person:

2001:$66,924 for 143 cases.2002:$46,352 for 95 cases.2003:$67,435 for 145 cases.— Stars and Stripes

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