Pride from Helping Others

By Bill Krasean, Senior Services RSVP Advisory Council Volunteer


Michael Barcelona’s CV is nine pages long, detailing his education, teaching history and publications since completing his Ph.D. in Marine Chemistry and Chemical Oceanography in 1977.  Yet these days, the Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Western Michigan University is happy with a much shorter CV: Volunteering with Rotary, Tuesday Toolmen, a program of Senior Services of Southwest Michigan, and helping to teach with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.


“My time volunteering is worth it, that’s for sure,” said Mike. “It’s good to feel that kind of pride — not self-pride — but pride from helping others.”


A Chicago native, Mike, 68, retired from WMU in June 2017 and remains a member of the American Chemical Society, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Association of Ground Water Scientists and Engineers – National Ground Water Association.


After Mike retired, a friend connected him with Brian Penny, who at the time was manager of Senior Services Emergency Home Repair, and he joined the all-volunteer group of retirees who put their skills to work on construction projects for senior citizens in need in Kalamazoo County.  The goal is to help seniors stay in their homes as long as possible.  Clair Branch, a hobbyist carpenter from Portage and Upjohn Co. retiree helped found the Tuesday Toolmen two decades ago.


Each Tuesday Mike and other volunteers, including fellow WMU retiree Matt Tomczak, an experienced carpenter, visit homes in the community to help with minor repairs and other needs for the less fortunate. Recently they repaired a screen door in one home, fixing a lock that no longer worked.


“We do some really cool things,” he said. In another case, they helped a 94-year-old man who uses a wheelchair and had not left his home for nearly five months for lack of a ramp. “The home assistant could get into the home by getting over obstacles that he couldn’t.  We patched the deck and put in a wheelchair ramp. When we were done he had a smile a mile long.”


“People are so appreciative,” Mike said. “And I have learned a lot about carpentry. In the last year, I have come to the realization that there are people who live in some pretty scary situations. Some places we visit are pretty nice. Other people, though, struggle with collapsed stairs, safety issues and, like the 94-year-old, difficulty getting out of their homes.  It has convinced me that I’m a pretty lucky person.”


In addition to the Tuesday Toolmen, each Thursday Mike helps at the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, a volunteer tutor organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who struggle to read. He is one of some 250 volunteers at 13 literacy centers who assist some 500 Kalamazoo County adults.  “I have helped a Peruvian, a Russian, an Asian woman and two men from Syria,” he said. “We help them learn to read and improve their English skills. The Peruvian woman now has her master’s degree.  I do miss teaching, so work with the Literacy Council appeals to me.”

RSVP – Your Invitation to Volunteer is a program of Senior Services of Southwest Michigan.  Membership is free.  RSVP offers placement assistance and benefits for people age 55 and better to volunteer.  Many opportunities in Kalamazoo County and a few in Calhoun County.  Volunteers are needed with Meals on Wheels, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Volunteers 4 Seniors medical rides, Mentor Academic Success tutors and mentors, Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP), Senior Services Home Repair, and more. Regular, flexible schedules available. Contact RSVP at 269-382-0515, or click here to complete our online application.