Umbrella of the Capital District

At 90, Leonard and Naomi Tucker go to the theater. They’re active with community groups. They even swing dance. But they know their limitations. “As we were getting older and living in our own house, it was getting difficult doing all the maintenance,” Naomi Tucker says.

The Tuckers found help through Umbrella of the Capital District, which matched them with Bill Gosier – himself a retiree – to perform the odd jobs they couldn’t.

By recruiting experienced retirees, the nonprofit creates a pathway to encore work that helps older adults and people with disabilities live independently.

 “When we started Umbrella, people were going into nursing homes because they could not maintain their homes,” says co-director Elaine Santore. “People who lived through the Great Depression, fought in world wars, helped each other and never accepted charity, 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.”

Based in Schenectady, NY, Umbrella serves four upstate New York counties and maintains a pool of roughly 140 workers, called “handypeople,” available for minor home repair and housekeeping. As of fall 2009, 94 percent of Umbrella’s handypeople were 50 or older.


“The fact that the workers are older is a big part of why clients enroll in Umbrella,” Santore says. They’re served by “peers who are trustworthy, respectful, and capable –someone they can relate to.”

Clients pay a yearly sliding-scale membership fee ranging from $145 to $315. When they need work done, they call Umbrella, which arranges a service call. The client pays the handyperson directly – $12 per hour.

Gosier, 75, signed up as a handyperson five years ago. He had been a food services manager for 30 years and had dabbled with home repair as a side business. In his mid-60s, Gosier had taken a maintenance job at a department store chain and retired at 70. He had heard about Umbrella at the local library and joined its roster a few months after retiring.

Gosier says he enjoys the work and being able to help people. He knows he could make more if he went into business for himself, but he appreciates Umbrella’s flexibility. Umbrella’s model is spreading, expanding encore opportunities. Recently, the organization helped a senior services provider in nearby Colonie, New York, create its own program.

Rick Iannello, executive director of the Albany Guardian Society, a nonprofit that seeks to improve seniors’ quality of life, says he respects Umbrella’s founders for creating a necessary, innovative, sustainable service. The benefits to the clients, he says, are obvious. The benefits to the workers may be more subtle, but are just as meaningful.

“The fact that they are paid for their work is highly important,” Iannello says. “It recognizes that you as an individual have a life of skill and effort. And now we’re asking you to put that to work for older people.”