Local nonprofit Elder Options is in a transition period for the first time in 15 years as longtime CEO Kristen Griffis prepares to step down on December 31.
After Griffis departs, the organization’s chief operating officer (COO), Katina Mustipher, will take the reins as the organization’s new CEO.
Griffis began working for Elder Options in June 2000 as an information systems analyst. She held other positions, including the director of planning and outcomes analysis and the associate executive director, before the Elder Options Board of Directors selected her for the CEO position in 2007.
“I felt like I ended up in the right place,” Griffis said in a Zoom interview. “What I love most about what we do is that we’re just here to help people in a very unbiased fashion. We are here to assist, educate, give people information, and let them make decisions that are the best fit for them.”
Based in Gainesville, Elder Options began in 1977 as a nonprofit organization serving as the state-designated area agency on aging. It serves a 16-county region in North with various services, ranging from helping seniors avoid scams to administering state and federal grant funds.
Griffis cited several reasons for her decision to retire after 15 years as CEO, including the illnesses and deaths of her parents earlier this year.
“I saw how short life is, and I didn’t realize they were both going to pass so soon,” she said. “Looking back, I feel like I accomplished a lot of the things I wanted to do. I’m ready to have a little extra time in my life and see some fresh eyes and leadership in the organization.”
During her 22 years at Elder Options, Griffis has seen the agency grow from 30 employees with a budget of $14.3 million to 74 employees with a budget of $27.2 million.
“I really wanted to see us get into doing more services, touching more people, diversifying and working on what money was coming in our revenue,” she said. “We worked hard, long hours making things happen. We all bought into the mission, and I am so proud of it.”
Elder Options’ mission is to ensure communities, especially seniors and people with disabilities, have a trusted and unbiased place to turn for information, resources, and assistance.
Griffis has led the implementation of numerous innovative programs, including those geared toward caregivers, veterans and people experiencing depression. But Griffis said she considers changing the organization’s culture as her biggest accomplishment.
“I really felt like I did a good job of making it more enjoyable to be at work,” she said. “We didn’t do staff retreats or team building [before]. We really didn’t have core values. When I took this job on, changing that was a major goal of mine.”
In recent months Mustipher has shadowed Griffis in her daily role to prepare for the change.
“The transition has been smooth, especially since I worked with Kristen for many years,” Mustipher said. “I’ve learned the importance of developing relationships with the board of directors, with partners outside our agency, funders, and getting out more in the community.”
The board of directors conducted a national search for an individual to fill the CEO position, considering both external and internal candidates before appointing Mustipher.
After 26 years at Elder Options, she said never anticipated that she would be CEO of the organization. Once she takes over in January, she will become the first person of color to lead the agency.
“It means so much to me at the end of the day,” she said. “I know it will be a challenge, but I am excited to have the opportunity to lead us to the next level. I’ve had the opportunity to watch my mentor, Kristen, lead and grow this organization, so I am thrilled to have her support.”
With the new job title comes a shift in thinking, Mustipher said.
“In my previous roles, I was always in operations, so I’m having to step back a little bit out of my day-to-day details of everything, which has been an adjustment for me because I’m so used to doing that,” Mustipher said. “I’m starting to think about my vision for the agency and where I want to take Elder Options.”
Her vision includes preparing for the growing number of seniors. More than 15% of Alachua County residents are already 65 or older, according to U.S. Census data, and some 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day.
Mustipher said she wants to focus on enabling seniors to remain at home to age in place while also supporting family caregivers. She also wants Elder Options to be a resource for seniors to help them with the technology divide, especially after the pandemic.
“I want us to be able to assist seniors in learning the new platforms of the internet so that they can enjoy entertainment on different services and devices,” she said. “Also, show them the different ways to communicate and stay connected to where our society is moving. They could order groceries and food online if they wanted to.”
Mustipher said she has stayed at Elder Options because she believes in the agency’s goals and values. She said the agency has continued to grow and evolve, and she plans to keep that momentum going as she steps into her new role.