A Program By Seniors, For Seniors  
    The Capital District of New York State is home to a unique program that helps senior citizens and people with disabilities to keep the two things they cherish the most in life: Their homes and their independence.

The program is called "Umbrella." Founded in 1995, Umbrella now assists more than 400 homeowners in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga, NY, to continue living independently in their homes.. One of the purposes of this article is to encourage leaders in other communities to learn about what Umbrella is doing, and to consider expanding the program to their own areas.

Services to Members

Umbrella provides a wide variety of personal, professional and home improvement assistance to prevent institutionalization wherever possible. Services include house cleaning, grocery shopping assistance, driveway shoveling, handy work and home repairs and maintenance.

Because of its size and structure, Umbrella is able to provide emergency services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Callers always receive an immediate, personal response (never an answering machine), because someone is always on call. Callers can expect assistance within 90 minutes of placing their call.


But the goal of Umbrella is not just to respond to emergencies. The program also works proactively with homeowners to prevent problems from developing. Every year members receive a free, 17-point written home inspection, in which routine maintenance work is identified, as well problems that represent a risk of injury to those in the home.

In addition to scheduled inspections, all Umbrella handymen are trained to be alert to potential fire and safety hazards in the homes during their visits. They encourage members to eliminate step stools, scatter rugs, improperly run electrical extension cords and other common hazards around the home. Removal of seemingly innocuous items like these can improve the home environment greatly and diminish the risk of serious injury from falls and other mishaps.

Umbrella handymen will also help homeowners to adapt their homes to meet changing health needs. Modifications typically are low-tech, such as removing items stored for years on basement stairs, using higher- wattage bulbs and installing grab bars in bathrooms. Seemingly minor changes like these can make a world of difference to a homeowner fighting to stay independent despite health problems or disability.

Membership Requirements and Costs

Only senior and disabled homeowners are eligible to belong to the Umbrella program. Memberships are available on a sliding scale, based on the homeowner's income, ranging from zero to $200 for a one story home and zero to $250 for a two story home. Members are charged $8 per hour for actual services. Subsidies are available for hourly charges as well, based upon need.

Seniors Helping Seniors

The other side of Umbrella is the opportunity it creates for active seniors to find work and personal satisfaction as staff members delivering services to Umbrella members. 70% of the Umbrella staff are persons over age 55. 40% of these are women.

About 100 people presently are employed by Umbrella. They bring many kinds of skill and experience to their work, which are matched to the needs of members as work requests come in.

Umbrella jobs range from full-time to intermittent, generally with very flexible schedules. These kinds of jobs are especially well-suited for senior citizens, who may seek reduced hours and the ability to mix work with family, travel or other activities during retirement. Finding skilled staff for Umbrella has not been a problem.


Umbrella strongly supports the "Aging at Home" philosophy. Its underlying belief is that there is a unique value to helping seniors and disabled persons to live comfortably and independently in their own home for as long as desirable and practical. When the persons providing the assistance are, themselves, senior citizens, both sides gain confidence through the experience.

In the long run, this kind of program can contribute to improved overall health for everyone involved. This goal is achieved through high quality home maintenance, the emphasis on prevention and the sense of connection that is inspired when seniors have an opportunity to reach out and help others in their communities.

To find out more about Umbrella, visit its web site at
http://www.theumbrella.org. Or you can write or call to:

Umbrella of the Capital District
1374 Parkwood Blvd.
Schenectady, N.Y. 12308
(518) 346-5249


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