Imagine feeling fatigued all the time, suffering from blurred vision, muscle spasms, or losing your balance constantly while walking. This is reality for nearly 1 million people in the U.S. living with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating central nervous system disease.
That’s why Michael Firenza volunteers each year with the BP MS 150, overseeing volunteers who drive vans that pick up riders who are unable to continue the ride. The annual bike event raises funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world free of MS.
“It’s one thing to see a lot of money raised, but it’s another to see the results of that money,” said Firenza, of funds raised that go toward finding a cure for MS.
Firenza, a project manager for the city’s Housing and Community Development Department, has volunteered with the event for the last 20 years. It’s one of the many ways he gives back to the community and its why he earned a Bravo award in May.
“His role supports thousands of riders that participate in the BP MS 150 each year,” said Brenda Buchanan, director of logistics for MSS. “I can’t thank him enough for all that he does for those living with and affected by MS.”
“All my jobs have always been assisting people,” said Firenza, who worked as a Missouri City police officer, firefighter, and EMT for 13 years before joining the city in 2009.
Along with volunteering for the BP MS 150, Firenza spends time each year serving on the parade committee for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“We put on the parade downtown,” said Firenza, who has volunteered on the committee for the past seven years. “But in addition to that, we have an auction every year that raises funding to invite 20,000 special needs children and adults to the parade.
They give them transportation when they need it, they give them breakfast, lunch, and a place to view the parade.”
But the committee’s work doesn’t stop there.
“In addition to that, we buy 1,200 rodeo tickets to give out to children of special needs to come to the rodeo,” Firenza said.
Firenza believes the auction creates an opportunity for special needs adults and children to experience something they might not otherwise be able to.
“Sometimes it’s not easy to take an adult or child that’s in a wheel chair, get them downtown, and find space along route to view parade,” he said.
For Firenza, it’s all about creating those special memories.
“The rodeo parade is something I remember going to as a kid,” he said “I want to make sure that other kids are able to have that rodeo experience.”
When he’s not busy helping riders in the BP MS 150 or volunteering with the HLSR, he volunteers with Bike Around the Bay, an annual bike fundraising event that benefits the Galveston Bay Foundation. The foundation aims to preserve the bay through advocacy, research and education.
Firenza also volunteers with Tour de Houston and Chapelwood United Methodist Church, where he volunteers for family events and helped to clean homes flooded during Tropical Storm Harvey.
Firenza brings his passion for helping others into his role for the city.
“Michael is a valued employee who exemplifies caring and concern for everyone’s well-being,” said Ryan Bibbs, a division manager for HCD. “He has kept us informed on the progress of construction pertaining to multifamily, single family, public facilities, and public services. He has also been heavily involved with the multifamily division building standards.”
Recently, Firenza oversaw the construction of the Pointe of Crestmont, a redevelopment project of the demolished Crestmont Village Apartments. The dilapidated complex was torn down three years ago, with Firenza and his team working to relocating some 70 tenants and eventually overseeing its redevelopment into a brand new 175-unit apartment complex.
Ultimately, it’s about helping people, says Firenza.
“Knowing that people can get safe, decent housing and that families can live safe because when kids are in a safe house, they do better in school and they are less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system,” Firenza said.