GENEVA — Michael Bersani credits an argument with his wife, Alejandra Molina, for starting the community involvement that earned him “Citizen of the Year’’ honors from the Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce last night.
“It was seven or eight years ago. I was living here and commuting to my job in Auburn,’’ Bersani, a lawyer with Michaels & Smolak, told the crowd. “My wife said she was going to start English classes for Spanish immigrants on Saturday mornings.”
He told her “that’s nice” and offered to take care of sons Sebastian and Nicholas.
“She said no, [you’re] going to help,’’ he said.
“I said, ‘Who’ll watch the kids.’ She said, ‘The kids are coming with us,’’’ he recounted. “I lost that argument.’’
Bersani, fluent in Spanish and French, said he found the English classes so rewarding that he was inspired to get even more involved with helping others, particularly the children of Hispanic immigrants and other needy children at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“As a lawyer, I don’t like to lose arguments,” he said. “Now I thank my wife for winning that argument.”
He said he took his sons to the Boys and Girls Clubs on Goodman Street for activities.
Friday nights, he would pick them up and take them either ice skating at the city rink or to the YMCA for swimming.
“I noticed there were never children from the Boys and Girls Clubs skating or swimming. I asked the boys, ‘Why don’t we take some of them with us?’’’ Bersani said. “The boys said great, and that’s how it started.”
Robin Glasgow, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, said Bersani helped him adjust to Geneva when he came here a year and a half ago.
“Mike has the ability to make clear issues we deal with on the board,’’ Glasgow said. “And it’s so great to see him at the club with his sons, getting involved with them and other children. … He’s a volunteer who leads with his heart. I want to thank Alejandra for sharing him with us.”
To many Spanish-speaking immigrants who come to his home on Maxwell Avenue for help, Bersani is known as “the lawyer,” Glasgow said.
State Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio, R-54, of Fayette, presented Bersani with a Senate resolution in honor of his Citizen of the Year award.
“He does so much for this community without self-aggrandizement, accolades or attention,’’ Nozzolio said.
He praised Bersani for taking on the role of father to may children whose own fathers have trouble filling that role.
Bersani is the latest in a long list of Citizen of the Year honorees dating back to 1965.
The dinner, at the Geneva Country Club, was sponsored by Five Star Bank.