Unit representatives watched quietly as Col. Brian P. Annichiarico, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Hawaii penned his signature across an allotment form, being one of the first to donate to this year’s Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Active Duty Fund Drive kick-off, March 13, 2014.
Through April 11, the nonprofit organization is hosting its annual drive to raise money for its various services that assist Marines and sailors in need. Each office receives funding through the Active Duty Fund Drive, donations from retired military members, repayment from clients with outstanding loans and the NMCRS reserve fund. The reserve fund is used as a last resort when NMCRS must take care of unforeseen expenses.
The society has 52 offices worldwide, one of which is aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The NMCRS Kaneohe Bay office is located in building 4016 behind the Provost Marshal’s Office. The staff and volunteers at NMCRS Kaneohe Bay support Marines and sailors on the installation through loans, grants, classes and consultation.
“I’ve seen what (NMCRS) does for Marines and sailors, and I do believe in the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and what they stand for,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ioannis Vrachnos, the base Marine Corps coordinator for the Active Duty Fund Drive. “It’s the only organization that’s strictly just for Marines and sailors. When a Marine finds himself (or herself) in (financial) trouble, the fi rst thing you’re going to hear out of everyone’s mouth is go to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.”
Donations can be made via credit card, cash, check or “allotment,” which is an amount taken out of each paycheck. Each unit representative received paper allotment forms to distribute among their peers. Marines can also access an NMCRS donation link through their Marine Online account. Service members are encouraged to
fi ll out an allotment form whether or not they choose pay deduction or a one-time donation using credit card, check or cash. Cheryl Milca, the director of the NMCRS Kaneohe Bay office, said the form makes it easier for coordinators to properly track every donation, and keep an accurate record.
This year, donations are also being accepted at a new, dedicated fund drive website: www.nmcrs.org/adfd/kaneohebay. Milca said the website is benefi cial because it instantly provides coordinators and commanding officers with a visible running total so they can monitor how the drive is progressing without waiting for anyone to prepare numbers. The website also provides a fund drive manual and a slide presentation of key points unit coordinators can use to educate their peers about the society.
The goal of the fund drive is to have “100 percent contact,” educating the base community about the society, in addition to raising funds, according to Holly Brantuas, a relief services assistant at NMCRS.
Milca said the money donated to NMCRS goes toward its various programs and services. For instance, service members may need help paying for funeral expenses, car repairs and emergency travel. Some funding goes toward Budget for Baby class gifts and visiting nurses supporting service members. In 2013, the society distributed more than $530,000 to service members and their families who qualifi ed for fi nancial assistance, and helped more than 700 individuals in need.
Vrachnos, who is volunteer-coordinating for his third year, knows people who have benefited from the society.
One of his junior Marines, for example, received an interest-free loan from NMCRS when he needed to fly home for an emergency. Another Marine was able to get $2,500 to repair a car transmission.
“(But) it’s not just monetary (assistance),” Vrachnos said. “There’s a laundry list of things that they can help in assisting Marines and sailors.”
The society’s services include quick assist loans and budgeting guidance from trained caseworkers. The society also offers financial advice for service members and spouses either preparing to be first-time parents or expecting another child in its Budget for Baby classes.
But active-duty service members and spouses not only benefit from the society, they volunteer. Military spouses in particular make up more than half of the volunteers at NMCRS Kaneohe Bay.
“I think our team is amazing and what this organization does is unmatched,” said Candice MacInnes, a Budget for Baby instructor and a caseworker at NCMRS Kaneohe Bay.
MacInnes fi rst approached NCMRS Kaneohe Bay when she and her husband needed to repair their car transmission, and has been volunteering at the Kaneohe Bay office for nearly a year.
“I walk into the office with a smile and I walk out of the office with an even bigger smile,” MacInnes said. “We’re a team of 35 people and only two are paid, yet people stick around and they dedicate their time for the society. Ninety-four percent of the society is run by volunteers. You truly have to love the organization and love the people in the office to dedicate (yourself).”
Brantuas became involved in NMCRS while her husband was stationed aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. As she and her husband transferred to different duty stations, she took on various positions including caseworker, Budget for Baby instructor and chairman of volunteers.
“(Volunteering at the society) has provided me with a sense of continuity at (each) duty station,” Brantuas said.
But regardless of how long a person is involved with NMCRS, there always seems to be more to learn, according to MacInnes, and even Milca, who has been with the society for more than a dozen years.
A NMCRS headquarters representative comes to train the society staff and volunteers every six months, and representatives from different departments on base come to brief the volunteers about their services. In turn, the volunteers can educate families about these resources.
MacInnes said she learned for instance that the society provides financial aid for child car seats, furniture for newlyweds and even assistance paying cellphone bills.
What families may not know is that NMCRS Kaneohe Bay is one of six pilot offices currently offering a $50 Visa gift card instead of the regular layette of baby amenities in their Budget for Baby classes. MacInnes said the gift card was introduced because not everyone attending the class is a first-time parent, and may have more use for the gift card than the layette.
MacInnes said in April the society plans to set up resource tables at various locations on base to spread the word about their services. Society representatives are also scheduled to be at the upcoming Keiki Aloha Expo, hosted by Marine and Family Programs. The NMCRS Kaneohe Bay office also plans to host an open house April 1, starting at 9 a.m. and running throughout the day for visitors to meet the staff and volunteers, as well as learn about the society.
“I would like the Marines and sailors to truly understand what this organization is all about,” Milca said. “Every dollar that is donated helps to take care of our Marines, sailors, retirees and their family. We see service members that donate and (have) never received assistance from the society, but another (service member or family) will benefit from their donation. “This is one way Marines and sailors can take care of their own.”
Milca encourages Marines and sailors to visit the society, even if they aren’t sure if NMCRS is the right place for their issue.
”Use us as your first resource, not your last. Where outside in the community can you get a free financial budget in two hours or an interest-free quick assist loan in five to 10 minutes?” Milca said. “If we can’t help you, we’ll direct you to other resources. We’ll try our very best to help you out.”
For more information, contact Vrachnos at 257-8827 or email@example.com, or base Navy coordinator Chief Petty Officer Ray Hershey at 257-0509, extension 8800, or firstname.lastname@example.org.