FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellow Profiles
"I know how stressful deployment cycles can be, and I'd like to give fellow military families peace of mind—and help ease financial strain."
Tara Sanders has moved nearly a dozen times in 15 years. Although each move has signaled a new beginning, it has also marked the end of another job she worked hard to earn—but had to leave as she followed her husband on his newest Navy assignment.
More than three years ago, Tara was offered a spot in the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Program, through which she gained job skills that complement her family's transient lifestyle—and benefit the thousands of military families she counsels each year at the Norfolk, Virginia, office of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS).
The Navy has played a starring role in her career, which began shortly after Tara graduated from Santa Fe Community College, where she earned an associate degree in art. Initially, she worked for several large retailers and specialized in developing visual displays. By 2000, however, she focused her attention on working in the military community.
Tara volunteered and organized volunteer schedules at the NMCRS in Pensacola, Florida, which works with military families and retirees who have trouble meeting their basic living needs, and with other expenses, such as car repairs and emergency leave. Case workers at the nonprofit also counsel their clients on budgeting and reducing debt.
Five years later, a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move brought her to the NMCRS in Bangor, Washington, where she was a caseworker and chairwoman of volunteers. She was then hired as a case worker—and then as a senior counselor—at NMCRS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where she applied, alongside three of her co-workers, for the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Program. Tara earned accreditation in June 2007—one month before a PCS move to Norfolk, Virginia. She applied to the program because she thought that additional training would benefit her clients.
"We handle the basics of life, and I wanted to know more—and tell my clients the next step to take," Tara said.
Tara, a native of Sneads, Florida, knows firsthand the financial challenges many military families face. When she married her husband, Darren, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, they realized that they were thousands of dollars in debt. They dug themselves out of debt with "sheer will," Tara said. Today, the family is debt-free—and Tara is passing it on.
"It's rewarding to help military families avoid the mistakes we made," she said.
The FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Program has shaped her family's finances, as well. The program educated her on financial legal issues and exposed her to many important financial planning tools. For example, Tara and her husband had never examined the financial implications for their family in the event of their deaths. After reviewing the program materials, the couple set up a trust for their daughter, Addie, 13, and now feels more confident about their family's financial future.
Today, as the casework coordinator at the Norfolk, Virginia, office of the NMCRS, Tara oversees training, scheduling and certifications. She also counsels clients: In the past year, she has handled more than 1,400 cases, which have resulted in interest-free loans of $700,143 and grants of $106,788 provided for basic living needs such as rent, groceries, utilities, car repairs and medical or dental insurance.
"I know how stressful deployment cycles can be, and I'd like to give fellow military families peace of mind—and help ease financial strain," Tara said.
After her husband retires in 2012, Tara aspires to broaden her career in financial counseling as a trainer working with NMCRS offices throughout the world.