|Elaine Santore , Umbrella of the Capital District|
|Umbrella of the Capital District Umbrella of the Capital District's website|
Umbrella of the Capital District
Motivated by the difficulty their own family members had in remaining in their homes, Elaine Santore and a partner started Umbrella of the Capital District in Schenectady, N.Y., to provide “handypeople” to do home maintenance for older adults. “When we started, people were going into nursing homes because they could not maintain their homes,” she explains. “There were people who had lived through the Great Depression, fought in World Wars, helped each other and never accepted charity. They were put into a place they did not want to be because they had no one to help them mow a lawn or change a light bulb.”
Looking back, Elaine marvels are their daring. “We didn’t go about it in the best way. We had no business plan. We saw the need and decided to fill it,” she says.
She was 16 when her father died and her mother tried to take care of their family and home. “She gave up her house because she couldn’t maintain it,” Elaine recalls. “That stayed with me for a long time.”
Much later, when an aunt who lived far away was in an accident, Elaine struggled to find people to help her aunt remain in her home. Her colleague Ron Byrne had had similar experiences with his aging mother who lived in another state. Elaine, a textile designer who had moved on to graphic design and video production, was at a crossroads professionally, so the time was right. Elaine and Ron founded Umbrella in 1995 when she was 45.
Umbrella now serves about 600 clients in the Schenectady area. For an annual fee ranging from $145 to $315, they have access to a pool of about 140 handypeople who do minor home repairs, maintenance and housekeeping. The workers earn $12 an hour and are paid directly by the clients. Umbrella doesn’t charge the workers for the matching service nor do they receive any portion of what is paid to the handypeople. “It is our privilege to have them,” Elaine says. “Without these people, Umbrella would not exist.”
She is a big proponent of using mature workers, and more than 90 percent of Umbrella’s handypeople are older than 50. She said clients feel an affinity with the workers because “they are peers who are trustworthy, respectful and capable – someone they can relate to.” For the workers, there is satisfaction knowing they are part of the solution to a very real problem.
Umbrella won a 2009 Encore Opportunity Award for its dedication to older workers. The organization also was honored by, the senior community service employment program, “Experience Works “ as Best Host Agency in New York State in 2009.
It was several years before Elaine and Ron took any salary, and monetary profit was not their primary incentive. “You’re keeping people in their homes and giving people something meaningful to do in their retirement years. And you are saving everyone’s tax dollars by keeping people in their homes rather than in other placements,” Elaine says.
To others considering a similar transition, she advises, “Life is short, so if you want it to be different, don’t think about it to death. Not every ‘T’ will be crossed or ‘I’ dotted, nor does it need to be. If it does not work out, there is always something else to do.”