Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
Three-year-old Vanessa Duarte passed away Dec. 6, 1996 after falling ill from her second bilateral lung transplant. She was diagnosed with acute pulmonary hypertension. Her mother, then 23-year-old Sgt. Lawanda Hall, was grieving her child’s death while being swarmed with bills from the hospitals, transplant coordinating team, critical care units, funeral costs and travel costs.
Greatly in debt, Hall looked for aid from the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, a nonprofit charitable organization sponsored by the Department of the Navy.
The NMCRS helped Hall create a budget for her family to pay off the debt that they had accumulated. They were later given a grant.
“The Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society was our hero in that whole ordeal. They were responsible for helping us bury our daughter,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Lawanda Hall, looking back nearly a decade. “Our families weren’t in a position to help with any finances. We didn’t qualify for any type of states’ assistance. Our only option was the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society.
“We provide financial and educational assistance to Marines, sailors and their eligible dependents,” said Raymond Caldwell, Director, NMCRS Twentynine Palms. “We are an organization that provides interest-free loans. So it benefits the service member financially for absolute needs.”
“We were really, really, really financially down and the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society was able to provide us with grants that helped cover burial expenses, transportation and so many different things,” Hall said. “The Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society wiped away a lot of that debt that we had incurred.”
“Grants are given based on a person’s ability to repay a loan,” Caldwell said. “If a service member has a verifiable need and does not have the means to repay us, we will issue a grant. If that person is that far in trouble, we want to be able to help.”
The NMCRS has helped many sailors and Marines who face financial distress like Hall. The organization uses charitable contributions to help service members get out of debt and become financially fit. Many of these contributions are from the service members themselves.
“I learned that those contributions that I had been giving, $2 a month, $5 a month, for about four years at that time, helped people and I was the recipient of that help,” Hall said. “You participate in something and sometimes you never really get to benefit from it. I benefited from it long before I realized how significant the program is, how much of a great impact it can have on a Marine’s life.”
The resources of the NMCRS are available to all active duty and eligible family members of deceased service members.
“These types of programs are in place because we all live and life happens,” Hall said. “I don’t care how much planning you do, no one could have told me to be prepared for my daughter to die, be prepared for excessive expenses to occur. Life happens and we all need to be able to have a support system in place to help us.”
The NMCRS operates in nearly 250 offices at Navy and Marine Corps bases throughout the world. The organization provides financial assistance to eligible recipients through interest-free loans, grants and financial counseling.
The society’s fund drive is March 12 through April 11.
For more information about the NMCRS call 830-6323 or visit www.nmcrs.org