When Tom MacDonald found himself out of work three years ago, he decided to evaluate his life goals and take a hard look at what he wanted to do when he grew up.
At age 64, he knew he wanted to stay in the field of reverse mortgages, and he did, but he wanted to have more time to give back to his community, too.
“I realized that I liked helping people,” MacDonald said. “Through reverse mortgages, I was able to help seniors stay in their homes and that brought me a sense of joy. So I began looking for more ways to use my skills to help others.”
MacDonald, a Napa resident, said he likes to take on projects where he believes he can bring “something extra to the table.” For that to happen, just ask, according to Share the Care director Yvonne Bagniski.
“Tom is one of the most dependable volunteers I’ve ever worked with,” Baginski said. “I call him Mr. Reliable. If he says he’d going to do it, you know it’ll get done.”
Share the Care is a nonprofit organization that helps Napa Valley senior citizens in need. MacDonald is an ambassador for the program, and has found his niche in helping older adults sort out their technology problems.
“I’m not a programmer, but I’ve been a computer user for some 40 years, so I get along with computers pretty well,” MacDonald said. Using his technical savvy, he’s helped seniors in need set up smartphones and tablets and install software on laptop and desktop computers.
But that’s not where it ends. MacDonald said he likes to get to the root of the problem, and sometimes that goes beyond installing Microsoft Word.
“I look beyond the initial need,” he said. “I like to dig deeper to find the real issue of a problem. A client may say they need help with one thing, but the true problem could be something completely different. I probe into each case to find the best solution and resources for each Share the Care client.”
This summer, MacDonald was put in touch with a man who needed help setting up a phone so he could be in contact with health services following a stint in the hospital. MacDonald helped the man with paperwork and set up a phone, but as he talked with the man, MacDonald began to realize that the man’s problems were greater than what was initially presented.
The man, known as Bert, had taken out a $3,000 loan through LoanMe to help cover some expenses, but with interest, it would take the low-income senior about 36 months to pay back the money.
MacDonald asked for help via the NextDoor community network website to ask people in Bert’s neighborhood if they knew of a way to help. One responder suggested setting up a GoFundMe account and pledged to donate $1,000 once the crowd-funding campaign was approved.
MacDonald researched how to set up a GoFundMe donation page and within three months, Bert had the money to pay off his loan.
“Tom is super detailed, “ Baginski said. “He is quiet and reserved, but he pays attention to the little things. When he meets with people, he finds out what else is going on beyond their technology needs. He’s tenacious and follows up on every need.”
In another Share the Care project, MacDonald met with a legally blind woman named Donna to help set up a vision magnifying machine so that she could better read printed materials. He also configured her computer so that she could have emails read to her.
As the two chatted, MacDonald learned that Donna was working on a novel and that she’d like to have a way to submit the finished work to be printed, so she could share it with her family and friends.
The novel is typed in all capital letters, which made it easier for Donna to read as she worked, but the work can’t be submitted to an editor that way, so MacDonald was been helping Donna by editing her work and fixing the text as he goes.
MacDonald said he knows it will take many hours to reformat the entire novel, but he believes it is a worthy project because he knows it will mean a lot to Donna to share her novel with others.
MacDonald’s kind and giving spirit branches out throughout Napa Valley beyond Share the Care. He is also a member of the planning committee for Napa Valley Tour de Cure, an charity bike ride that raises money for the American Diabetes Association.
Tour de Cure Event Manager Tom Hall said MacDonald is an indispensable member of his team.
“Tom heads up operation central on the day of the event. He keeps track of everything on the course to make sure everything is running smoothly. He’s very calm and level headed, so the job is perfect for him. He keeps everything in order. If we ever encounter a hiccup, the participants never know because Tom runs things so well.”
Last year’s event included 2,000 riders, and Hall expects to have the same number of participants going into 2016 – the event’s 25th anniversary. The event will be bigger to mark the milestone ride, but Hall said he’s feeling good about the event preparations with MacDonald on the team.
“His heart is in the right place,” Hall said. “He’s a very solid, caring person. If he’s on your team, you know you have a star player.”
MacDonald is also a member of North Bay Association of Realtors. He serves as treasurer of the Napa chapter alongside director Chris Wunderlich, who offers a similar portrait of MacDonald.
“I’ve served on several boards with Tom over the years,” Wunderlich said. “He’s someone you can count on to help out. If we ever need a donation – monetary, time or otherwise – Tom always steps up. He’s very involved and always willing to help out.”
North Bay Association of Realtors’ Napa chapter hosts several fundraisers throughout the year, including a golf tournament. Wunderlich said when it comes to planning and volunteering at events, MacDonald is always one of the first to offer his assistance.
As if that wasn’t enough on his plate, MacDonald recently began helping out with the California Highway Patrol through the senior volunteer program.
“I’ll go the extra mile to help people in need,” MacDonald said. “That’s just in my nature. I have a helping personality; I like to help others. I can’t really think of what else I would want to do.”