Aging at Home: Use of Community Based Supports : Authored by Kerry Wiley and Ron Byrne

Mar 21, 2012
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An Aging Population

Adults over the age of 85 are becoming the fastest growing population sector.[i]  According to the U.S. Census Bureau projections, the aging population will more than double by the year 2050, to 80 million.   At that time approximately 1 in 5 Americans will be “elderly”. The majority of this growth will occur between 2010 and 2030.  Literature has shown that Aging and disability are linked.   Current estimates indicate that 52.6% of people over age 75 have disabilities. [ii] 

We know that supporting people with disabilities and people who are aging in their home costs less than other long-term care options such as providing care within nursing home settings.  Providing community-based supports and using innovative models is one strategy which can support people with disabilities and people who are aging to maintain their independence.

An Innovative Home Maintenance Model

The Capital District of New York State is the home of a unique nonprofit program that helps people who are aging and people with disabilities to keep the two things they cherish: Their homes and their independence.

The program, called “Umbrella of the Capital District” (Umbrella), provides a wide range of personal, professional and home maintenance assistance.   Services include house cleaning, grocery shopping, painting, plumbing, and home repairs.  What’s unusual about Umbrella is that 70 percent of the agency’s workers are retirees!

Ron Byrne and Elaine Santore, Co-directors of Umbrella, founded the organization 15 years ago when they realized that many people with disabilities and people who are aging (ages 70 and above) needed a little ongoing support in order to live safely and independently in their homes.

Umbrella is unique because it matches homeowners with semi-retired people who support home maintenance, lawn maintenance, masonry, painting, electrical work, plumbing and a variety of other services.

To be eligible for Umbrella of the Capital District services:

a)      A candidate must own and live in the home to be maintained, and

b)      At least one of the owners or residents must 55 years of age and/or have a disability that precludes their ability to maintain their home independently.  Eligibility for Umbrella services is not based on income.

Since the inception of Umbrella of the Capital District, Ron Byrne and Elaine Santore have drawn upon personal experiences which led to the discovery of the tremendous potential

of semi-retired people or retirees to help others to live independently.

Both Byrne and Santore had close family members that sustained major injuries in later life.   In both cases, local retirees provided support that made it possible for their relatives to return home to  live independently.

According to Byrne, “In many ways Umbrella is the direct result of the experience we had as caregivers.”

Umbrella of the Capital District serves three counties within the Capital Region of New York Albany, Schenectady, and Troy. Over 500 paying members depend on Umbrella for help with everything from routine housecleaning and yard work to dealing with plumbing or heating emergencies.

Retirees have various skill and experience, and most are looking for ways to share what they know with others.  Umbrella uses this often untapped resource by uniting homeowners in need of assistance with retirees who want to help people.  This arrangement has been a win-win situation earning Umbrella a prestigious Met Life/Civic Ventures Encore Award in 2009.

The award recognizes Umbrella as exemplary and as one of the best programs in the country for linking service with retirement and valuing the expertise of people who want to do something meaningful after retirement.  For many people with disabilities and people who are aging, the difference between choosing to remain at home and being forced to move to another long-term care option, is having access to low-cost, trustworthy, and reliable home maintenance.

Based on the income of each household and the size of the house involved, Umbrella members directly pay between $145 and $315 per year for membership or are funded in part or entirely through third parties including local government, private donations, or through grant funding.

Umbrella provides all members with a safety inspection and the ability to schedule routine maintenance and home repairs.  Members also have access to a round-the-clock emergency help line.

“I [Kerry Wiley] have been a member of Umbrella since 2005.  Support from Umbrella has afforded me more self-reliance and independence.  Umbrella has supported me in various ways including those unexpected home emergencies.  There was one instance, where I had a glass window shatter.  I needed help to clean up the broken glass, and who would you call for that type of support?”
“People we serve place their trust in our organization and we take their welfare very seriously, says Byrne. We know each member personally, and conduct business and provide attention that we would give members of our own families.   Personal attention is the hallmark of Umbrella.”

Growing A Community Based Model

According to Elaine Santore, “The past 15 years, have taught us a great deal about supporting independent living. We have captured these lessons in the form of an operations manual that we use to both operate Umbrella of the Capital District and to create new branches of Umbrella.”

According to Santore, “Ron and I act as paid consultants to work with groups to start new branches of Umbrella.    Umbrella of the Capital District serves as the sponsoring organization for a period of one year.  We guide groups through the process of getting new Umbrella branches up and running.  We provide consultation on topics including setting up the program infrastructure, retiree recruitment, and general to day to day operations.”    

Santore notes “Umbrella is growing with chapters located in Colonie New York and Syracuse New York.”

In addition to work performed by Umbrella recruited retirees directly, several businesses have teamed with Umbrella to provide volunteers for larger projects including roof repairs and replacements, replacement of doors and windows, and major electrical, plumbing, and  lawn and garden projects.

Umbrella also refers homeowners to vetted contractors for major repairs at reduced prices, and works with local government by providing weatherization services and emergency repairs for low-income seniors at no cost.  Umbrella of the Capital District has also partnered with numerous volunteer groups and local businesses to carry a variety of minor to moderate maintenance and lawn and garden work at no cost.

Umbrella embodies community- based support in its truest sense.  Umbrella affords its members, independence and self-sufficiency.    Comments from an Umbrella member put it best, “I know that help is just a phone call away–24 hours a day– Umbrella is helping me stay at home and in my community.”

For more information about Umbrella of the Capital District, see:

If you have specific questions about Umbrella of the Capital District, inquiries may be sent to: ( or (


Acknowledgements: Special Thanks to Ron Byrne and Elaine Santore for their contributions to this article.

[i]               Alliance for Aging Research

[ii]               U.S. Census Bureau


Author: Kerry

  • BobLujano

    What a great idea of having people support a community that has a pressing need. GREAT JOB!