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Wes Winter started his new job as the executive director of the Mizell Senior Center last March—but before he officially began, he got a taste of what he was getting himself into at the 2019 Stars Among Us gala.

“It was my first exposure to Mizell. It was my introduction to the community. My eyes were spinning in opposite directions at that point,” Winter said with a laugh. “I really didn’t know much about what was going on … so I’m really looking at this year as my first year.”

This year’s gala will take place on Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Palm Springs Air Museum. We recently spoke with Winter about his first year on the job, Mizell’s future—and, of course, what people can expect at this year’s Stars Among Us.

It’s fascinating that your first exposure to Mizell was at Stars Among Us last year. What impressions did the gala leave with you?

There were a couple of things. One was the breadth of support that Mizell has in the community. There were folks at that gala—now I them well, but at that point, I didn’t have a clue who they were—and they represented just about every niche you can imagine throughout the Coachella Valley. That was incredibly impressive to me. Another was the sense of philanthropy that folks here in the valley seem to have. There has been so much support, not just for Mizell, but for all of the social-service organizations that exist here in the valley.

How have your first 10 months gone at Mizell?

Well, it’s been a whirlwind—but it’s been pretty wonderful. I have a very supportive board of directors, and they are, each one in their own way, very plugged into the community. So they’ve been just a wonderful asset. … Then we have so many people who come in the door here at Mizell. We receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 visits a year—and those folks who come in that door are not the slightest bit shy about coming into my office and introducing themselves. So that’s been really helpful.

Let’s talk about Stars Among Us. What can attendees expect this year?

Well, I can’t tell you what it is, but we’re rolling out a new initiative that is sort of reframing the community’s look at Mizell. I’m profoundly excited, and we’re going to talk a little bit about that at the event. We won’t spend a lot of time talking from the stage, but we will put it out there, and I think folks are going to be pleasantly surprised. So that’s exciting.

Then we have two awardees that we’re recognizing. One is BIGHORN Cares; we’ll be recognizing all of the philanthropic work that they do here in the valley. They are just amazing. They not only help Mizell out; they help the whole community of organizations. We’ll also be honoring Tim Jochen and Lee Erwin, from Contour Dermatology. They’ve been wonderful to Mizell, but they also are so plugged into all of the community-service organizations that are here.

Tell me about the fun part of the gala.

We’re going to have a pretty incredible dance band there called The Zippers. There’s going to be an auction. This year, we’re not having a silent auction, because we really wanted to put that energy into the live auction. Those, for me, are always fun. People really seem to enjoy getting into it and bringing the money in. For the program, like I said, we’re going to keep people talking onstage to a minimum, because I know people’s eyes start to glaze over if you talk too much. I think it’s going to be really interesting to folks when we roll out our new initiative.

You’re sure you can’t tell me just a little bit more about it? Give me a hint, maybe?

Well, our theme for the evening is “Take Off With Mizell.” We’re holding the event once again at the Air Museum. This year, we’re moving it to the new hangar, which we haven’t been in before, so that’ll be interesting in and of itself. With the theme, we wanted to really play both on the idea of being at the Air Museum, and this idea of our new initiative, and how we’re moving into the new decade, and what’s going to look new and different.

Tell me about how important Stars Among Us is, in terms of the fundraising aspect, and also the attention that it brings to Mizell.

The dollars we’ll be bringing in that evening, from sponsorships and ticket sales and auctions, all of that goes to help us with our Meals on Wheels program. Meals on Wheels is funded (by the government) at the 80 percent level, so we need to raise that additional 20 percent to make the program whole. Because of that program, working with the County of Riverside Office on Aging, we’re able to ensure that a little over 200,000 meals are served to valley residents in an average fiscal year.

Every one of those meals is made in Mizell’s kitchen, correct?

Every one of them … and (our kitchen) is absolutely tiny. One of the things that we’re looking at doing, hopefully sooner rather than later, is remodeling that kitchen to make it a little more state-of-the-art, more energy-efficient, and better for the folks who actually produce the meals that come out of the kitchen. We’ve actually received a significant gift from a donor who is also a participant here in Mizell activities. We’re going to be looking for other funds to match with that gift so we can redo that whole kitchen.

The 15th Annual Stars Among Us Gala will take place at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $350. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5689, or visit mizell.org.

Published in Local Fun