In service of others is part of Claremont family’s DNA

The Mendelsohn family isn’t one to boast. In fact, in a recent Sunday afternoon interview Debra Mendelsohn had to prod her teenagers Emelie, 17, and Doug, 15, to talk about their different volunteer activities. Their activism extends to their temple, Scout troops and the Volunteer Family Group, helping other military families.

“They just aren’t used to getting attention for what they do,” Ms. Mendelsohn explains of their reticence.

Though they are quiet about their volunteerism, the Mendelsohn’s level of service speaks for itself, and the nation has taken notice. The Claremont family was recently honored as the Association of the US Army’s Volunteer Family of the Year, chosen among hundreds of military families internationally for the prestigious accolade. While noting the honor in being recognized for outstanding service to the community and to the US Army, Ms. Mendelsohn says helping others is merely second nature for their close knit National Guard family.

“[Volunteerism] is part of the fabric of our family,” Ms. Mendelsohn said. “It is just a part of what we do for each other.”

Every day provides another opportunity to give back, and the Mendelsohns rarely sit idle. Though taking a moment for recognition at the city’s Veteran’s Day ceremony in Memorial Park, they were otherwise up to their usual activities. Captain William Mendelsohn assisted with the Boy Scouts as son Doug took to the bugle and Ms. Mendelsohn played an active role in the ceremony, talking to the crowd of around 100 people about the Claremont Heroes Military Appreciation Program, started by the family back in 2010.

Capt. Mendelsohn, who has been with the California National Guard for the past 28 years, is a model of volunteerism for the family—not only in the dedication for his craft, but in the service he gives outside his career, his family says. Involved in his son’s Boy Scout troop for years, Capt. Mendelsohn didn’t even allow deployment to keep him from his role as assistant scoutmaster. He famously attended a pack meeting via Skype in 2011, Ms. Mendelsohn noted.

“It provides us with the opportunity to be together as a family,” Capt. Mendelsohn said, adding that he is happy to dedicate the time.

The Mendelsohn children have followed suit with their high level of activity. Doug stays involved as an Eagle Scout with Claremont’s Troop 407, building an Israeli dodge ball court at Temple Beth Israel as part of his Eagle Scout project. Emelie is an active member of Claremont High School’s Thespian Society and participant of the Best Buddy program, helping those with special needs in the community. A number of sports also pepper their resumes.

“I’ve been team mom more times than I can count,” laughed Ms. Mendelsohn, but she is delighted to take up the task, urging her children to get involved.

“The entire family’s service is quite notable,” said retired Major General Paul Mock, who nominated the Mendelsohns for the Volunteer Family of the Year because of their tenacious spirit in a whole spectrum of volunteer work. “They epitomize what this award is all about.”

Though their areas of service are vast, the Mendelsohns have made a name for themselves among Claremonters with the banners that wave serenely throughout the city from Veteran’s Day through New Year’s. Each flag serves as a beacon honoring Claremont’s men and women of service, both past and present. The banner program started off as an innocent query from the Mendelsohn children, curious as to why there wasn’t a banner in their city recognizing their father’s service. With no city funding, Ms. Mendelsohn took to raising $50,000 herself to grant her children their wish. Under her family’s leadership, the Claremont Heroes program now proudly boasts over 150 flags.

Another source of pride for the military family is involvement in the Family Readiness Group (FRG) for the California National Guard, providing support to other military families. It is a way for them to give back to others facing a similar situation. Ms. Mendelsohn—who has played a vital role helping over 300 families as a lead FRG volunteer for the army—takes particular pride in the fact that her clan is the first National Guard family to be recognized with the volunteer family award.

“It shows people that the National Guard is serving right along with the rest of them,” Ms. Mendelsohn said.

She also takes significant pride in the fact that her children decided to donate the $500 reward that accompanied their honor to local nonprofit organizations.

“It’s important to give back the many wonderful things we have been blessed with,” she said. With volunteer work providing her and her family with so many chances to spend time together, Ms. Mendelsohn says she feels particularly fortunate.

“It’s a true gift.”

—Beth Hartnett


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