Michael Caldarola isn’t an actual father, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a positive male role model to scores of St. Helena kids.
Retired from a career as a research attorney in the California Courts of Appeal, Caldarola has umpired Little League games, tutored kids at the primary and elementary schools, serves on the board of the UpValley Family Centers, helps low-income families with their taxes.
“I’m almost 70 and I’ve had a very fortunate, privileged life,” he said. “Being involved in the community is kind of my way of paying back the cosmos for what good fortune I’ve had.”
Caldarola has also been active onstage, performing with the Napa Regional Dance Company, Follies du Valle, St. Helena Chamber Singers, and at the White Barn, where he serves on the board of directors.
Upvalley residents might have seen him playing an eye-patched pirate in “The Nutcracker,” walking around the family centers’ Día de los Muertos celebration in striking face paint, winning an Aunt Helena lookalike contest at the St. Helena Farmers’ Market, reading Spanish poetry or playing a cloaked devotee of Edgar Allan Poe at the White Barn, or spreading awareness of a documentary on child stress playing at the Cameo Cinema.
Tutoring is one of his most time-consuming and rewarding activities. Tutors have a chance not just to help kids with reading and match, but to help them cope with personal problems and deal with their emotions, Caldarola said.
Kids, especially first- and second-graders, display a refreshing innocence, he said.
“Just being around them recharges my batteries,” he said.
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Caldarola isn’t paid for any of his service, but helping a child reaps its own rewards.
“To see them say ‘group hug!’ and have this swarm of first-graders or second-graders run up to you is so special,” he said. “Or to get a letter from a fifth-graders saying, ‘You’re my best friend. I’ll always remember you.’
“I don’t have kids, so I don’t have all the drawings that kids make for their parents at school. But this way I can still get that love – and hopefully set an example for them.”
Helping with the UpValley Family Centers’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is also rewarding, Caldarola said.
“When they find out they’re going to get a big refund, they’re so appreciative,” he said.
Caldarola said his mother was deeply involved in the community, “and I guess I got those genes.”
“Instinctively I want to participate in community activities … to feel integrated in the fabric of the community and not just be an individual within it,” he said.