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Relief Society to Celebrate 100 Years of Service

By Lance Cpl. Michael Nease | | January 22, 2004

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Last year, a young Marine learned of a family member's death and didn't have money for a plane ticket home. A fellow Marine told him about a society that could help, and within two hours, the young man had a ticket.

The next day he was home with his family.

So when his truck broke down in Texas recently, and the towing bill back to Yuma would have cost $2,000, Lance Cpl. Timothy Cooper, a maintenance administrator with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-13, didn't hesitate to visit the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society for the second time. They helped him plan the cheapest way to get his truck and loaned him the money he needed interest free.

"They know we don't make the most money, and if hard times come around, they take that into account and are there to help you," said Cooper.

The Relief Society will celebrate its 100th birthday tomorrow, marking a century of helping sailors and Marines like Cooper with all kinds of problems; from emergency travel to telephone bills. The Society has given out more than $1 billion to more than three million active duty and retired Marines, sailors and their families since its inception. Last year, the MCAS Yuma office alone gave out more than $200,000 to almost 500 people, the vast majority of which were active duty Marines, said Lora L. O'Hara, director of the station NMCRS.

The Society was founded on Jan. 23, 1904, and received its initial funding from gate receipts of the Army-Navy football game. With the permission of President Theodore Roosevelt, the $27,000 from tickets was split three ways. The University of Pennsylvania hosted the game and received one third, the Army Relief Society received another and the remaining $9,000 went to the Navy to establish its own relief society.

Through generous donations and careful investing over the years, the Society's Reserve Fund has grown so large that the interest it earns pays for all of the Society's expenses. This means that 100 percent of the money NMCRS receives goes to helping Marines and sailors, O'Hara said.

The original mission of the Society was to help widows and orphans, and it still does, but the Navy and Marine Corps have changed a lot over the past century and the Society has evolved right alongside.   

"It changes all the time. There are people at headquarters who make exceptions to the guidelines all day long. That's all they do and when they see a trend, that's what makes a change in the guidelines," said O'Hara.

Today, NMCRS offers interest free loans for medical, dental, funerals, housing, car repair and other expenses, and volunteers teach classes on keeping a personal budget and budgeting for a family. The Society  also sets up and stewards relief funds for large incidents, such as the U.S.S. Cole Fund and the Pentagon Assistance Fund, said O'Hara.

The Society is a private, non-profit organization governed by a board of directors, which includes Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee and Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps. Despite its close tie to the military, NMCRS receives no government funding.

"The only connection to the military that we have is that our clients are all military," O'Hara said.

The Society helps Marines and sailors concentrate on their mission by relieving financial worries, which is especially important during deployments when servicemembers are far away from their families, said O'Hara.

"Most Marines and sailors (who seek assistance) are of lower ranks. There are many more lance corporals than there are majors," said O'Hara. "We help officers too, if they need it, but there are many, many more lower enlisted who aren't making enough money to cover life's emergencies, and that's what we're here for."

The Society's headquarters hasn't allowed soliciting since the end of World War II until now. To raise awareness, and to celebrate 100 years of service, the Society will be launching a publicity campaign over the radio and television, O'Hara said.

The charity nature of the Society keeps some people quiet about the assistance they've received, said Jennifer Haefner, who has been volunteering with NMCRS for about four years.

"I really think it's a hidden secret, and needs to get publicized more," said Haefner. "The people that come here and get money; it's not that they're ungrateful, but they don't go telling everybody because of pride. They're too proud to admit that they needed assistance."

"I sometimes think (Marines and sailors) don't know what we have to offer; like interest free loans, help when they think they're at their wits end and a place to get help with a small problem or even a big problem," said Hope Palmer, a volunteer teacher of the Budget for Baby class, which helps new parents plan for the financial future of their families.

The Yuma NMCRS office is located on the first floor of building 645, across from the station theater and can be reached by telephone at 269-2373. To learn more about the Society visit its Internet site at http://www.nmcrs.org.

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