Meet the Grandmother and Grandson Behind Umbrella
by Avi Glickstein
Sam Gerstenzang started Umbrella, the service that provides everyday tasks for seniors, after an experience his grandmother had. To find out more, I sat down with Sam and his grandmother Patricia Ackerman at her apartment, a welcome respite from the slushy blizzard outside.
Sam, you got the idea for Umbrella from your grandmother?
Sam: We did. My business partner, Lindsay Ullman, and I were thinking about what to do next and one day I got a call from my grandmother about a service she had been using in upstate NY, that connected recent retirees and others in the community to help seniors age in place.
Patricia: I think you had been thinking about doing something with seniors.
S: Next thing you know, Lindsay and I were on a train to Schenectady, NY, where we met Umbrella’s founder, Ron Byrne, who had started the first Umbrella 22 years ago in upstate New York. We spent that night at my grandmother’s!
Patricia, why did you first sign up for Umbrella?
P: I started using Umbrella of the Capital District about two or three years ago maybe. A bridge friend recommended it to me.
My husband needed someone to accompany him to doctor’s appointments – that worked out well. I also used a handyman a few times – to fix my garage door and I couldn’t get the storm door to stay in – small things that added up.
I’ve gotten help with some tech things as well, from an Umbrella Handy Neighbor called Amy. One thing I learned from her – besides that she knew how to do things better than I did – is she had a much more persistent, logical approach than I did. I get discouraged, annoyed and give up so…
Where were you living at the time?
P: Well, I moved to Albany in the early ‘70s. I left my husband, moved to Albany with my four daughters, and went to graduate school in social work. After I finished that, I worked for the state, got married again, and raised my daughters there. I lived there for around 40 years.
Sam, why was Umbrella interesting to you?
S: For the seniors who use Umbrella, it’s such a simple, straightforward solution to get the small things around the house done in an affordable way.
And for people who’ve recently retired and want to give back–or others who have a bit of extra time–Umbrella creates extra income, a flexible schedule, and meaningful work.
We thought this idea could work in many other places, including Brooklyn, and partnered with Ron to take it there.
Has it launched in other places besides the Capital District and Brooklyn?
S: We recently launched in Nassau County as well and have plans to expand to other areas quickly.
You two seem close. Is that the case?
P: Oh yes, we spend every holiday together. I’ve visited Sam all over the world!
S: Yes, we share lots of interests – books, current events, games. And I would never have started Umbrella had it not been for her.
Do you play bridge together?
S: She’s very competitive…
Learn more about Umbrella at AskUmbrella.com or call (516) 882-4498