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Stacy Mittelstaedt: AgingNext director of volunteers

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Many parents advise their kids to get an education and have a solid career in place before pursuing their dreams. Others urge them to follow their passion and the money will find them.

Some are lucky enough get both.

“I just fell in love with volunteering,” said Stacy Mittelstaedt, director of volunteers for Claremont-based senior services nonprofit AgingNext. “It’s the best job in the world to work with people who want to give back to other people. You just can’t beat it.”

AgingNext (formerly Community Senior Services) has a pool of about 300 volunteers both in its own programs as well as other community organizations. It partners with several municipalities, nonprofits and businesses, including Claremont, La Verne, Pomona and Azusa, Meals On Wheels, and senior facilities such as Claremont Manor, Mt. San Antonio Gardens and Hillcrest, providing free or low-cost programs, services and resources to the aging community.

Ms. Mittelstaedt (German for “middle city”), 52, grew up in Alta Loma and attended both Chaffey College and the University of La Verne. The Rancho Cucamonga resident has been married for 28 years. Her son is a senior at the University of California, Riverside and is studying film production.

She’s gratified to have worked for 27 years in a field she adores, but like much of life, her journey emerged organically over time, following a series of unforeseen events. 

In 1988 she was 19 and studying organizational management at Chaffey when her father suffered a major heart attack. Her family’s sudden dynamic shift and accompanying financial strain prompted her to look for full-time work.

She ended up a teamster, preparing lading bills in the Fontana office of Pacific Intermountain Express, which was at one time the largest trucking company in the world. That job was followed by another in the trucking industry. The well-paying jobs served their purpose, helping her family make ends meet. But after a couple years she realized she wasn’t where she wanted to be.

In 1991 a cousin who was a nurse at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center told her about an opening in their volunteer department. She got the gig and to her delight found she loved the work. Along the way she earned her certification in volunteer management and eventually became the hospital’s director of volunteers.

When she heard last year that AgingNext was looking for a volunteer director, she jumped at the opportunity.

“Working for nonprofits just lets you look at things through lots of different lenses,” Ms. Mittelstaedt said. “You hear the story of the senior who calls who needs help with something; you then call the agency who can help them and you have their side of the story; then you put the calls in to the family. You get to look at problems from everybody’s angles.

“You can’t solve everything, but it helps you to understand what other people are going through.”

Claremont has had popular programs in place for years that offer low cost senior meals at its Joslyn and Blaisdell senior centers. When the centers were forced to close in March due to the pandemic, the city began delivering the meals to seniors via a drive-through pickup at the Joslyn Center. But not all the needy seniors were able to drive or had someone available to pick up their meals.

AgingNext stepped in, and what began as a nine-person route back in April has now swelled to include about 200 seniors who have received the twice-weekly deliveries of packaged meals.

The 35 volunteer drivers Ms. Mittelstaedt coordinates have delivered more than 10,000 meals and logged over 1,000 volunteer hours while traveling in excess of 5,000 miles. The volunteers can be seen queueing up in their cars at the Joslyn Center at 10:15 a.m. every Monday and Wednesday.

It’s clear area seniors are in need during this pandemic: the AgingNext numbers represent about half of the meals and volunteer stats Claremont’s Senior Services Department has racked up since March.

Ms. Mittelstaedt’s ebullient disposition has served her well over this unprecedented, challenging year.

“You know, 2020 has had its share of bad days for everybody,” she said. “You get up in the morning and you get a last minute email that a volunteer can’t come in because of a personal commitment, but we’ve got x number of meals to deliver, a schedule and everybody’s routed. And you’re like, ‘What am I gonna’ do today?’

“Then it turns into a great day because within an hour of making calls and sending out emails, they step up to the plate. You look at the people and you remember instantaneously that they came to volunteer because they want to help people. They genuinely have empathy and compassion for their fellow man, and they want to do right by their community. And you see it every time there’s a problem there’s always a volunteer who says, ‘I can help with that.’”

AgingNext receives funding from federal, state and county grants and contracts, but relies heavily on private donations from individuals, organizations, corporations and private foundations.

It will mark its 45th anniversary as a senior services provider with a virtual “UnBirthday” celebration and fundraiser at 3 p.m. Thursday, October 15. For gift ideas, visit www.agingnext.org or call (909) 621-9900.

“Everybody here is really proud of the support of the cities we serve and the people we service,” Ms. Mittelstaedt said. “It makes a difference. If we’ve been here 45 years, we’re doing the right thing.”

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