Program allows seniors to find help with repairs, housework, more

Sometimes a call to the Sacandaga Task Force for Senior Living’s handyman program requires a creative solution.

Since 2011, the program has offered seniors living in the Sacandaga Lake area a number to call when they need work done – anything from yard work, to snow shoveling, to plumbing, to carpentry. The task force has a list of 25 handymen and women in the area that it furnishes to seniors who call; the seniors then choose a name to call and negotiate the work to be done and the price.

Most of the calls come in the spring and fall for seasonal outdoor yard work and repairs, according to task force board member Marion Balch. Some items that the task force thought would be popular, such as electronic repair, haven’t been requested at all. Other requests have been for services the task force didn’t anticipate.

“I really think the biggest surprise was the time somebody did need someone to drive them to the airport,” Balch said. “We met that need in kind of an unorthodox way, but we got it taken care of. … We actually located somebody else in our circle who was taking the same flight, and they transported the person. It was very serendipitous. That was an example that prompted us to think, maybe we need to take a look at that.”

At some point next month, the task force will revamp its lists of both handymen and the services they can provide, Balch said.

“We’re working on streamlining some of our lists,” she said.

Mary Ann Evans, the task force’s vice president, introduced the idea of a handyman service in 2010, modeling it after a similar program in Schenectady, Umbrella. That program requires seniors to pay an annual membership fee along with a flat rate of $12 per hour to the handyman doing the work, according to Umbrella’s website.

“The basic concept is that seniors would have people that they could trust to contact to do work for them,” Evans said. “We screen the people that are on the list, and if we get complaints about somebody, we take them off the list.”

Evans and the task force streamlined the program to better suit the Sacandaga Lake area, eliminating the membership fee and flat rate for work.

“We opted to go for something a lot less cumbersome,” Balch said. “We didn’t want people to have to pay a fee; we wanted this to just be a free service to hook folks up.”

According to Janis Serfis, a volunteer with the task force who responds to the calls to the answering service, the program so far has not received many calls this year.

“Sometimes there’ll be several calls in a month, and then sometimes none,” Serfis said. “I would say that the winter is less popular, because – again we’re in a small area, Northville is small – most people have already had people lined up to do their driveways and sidewalks and stuff. … It’s the warmer weather when we get more calls.”

Doris Guyon of Northville first used the service to find someone to rake her leaves in the fall of 2012. She used it again this past fall for the same reason. She contacted a different handyman each time, and was satisfied with both experiences, she said.

“I called them in the fall to rake leaves; my husband and I are both 90 and it’s gotten to be too much to try to clean up the garden ourselves,” Guyon said. “… I think it’s a very worthwhile program, especially for the elderly. And I hope to be able to use them in the springtime, if it ever arrives.”

When Frank Bendl of Northville called for someone to shovel snow, he was given three names. One of those was his neighbor, Vern Duesler.

“I only had him twice; I call him when I can’t brush it with a broom,” Bendl said. “He calls me up anyway and asks if I want him to come up or not. It’s worked out good for me; I’m happy.”

For the handymen, the service has sometimes been a way to increase business. Paul McColgan, owner of Ask the Reliable Handyman in Broadalbin, signed up with the service about three years ago, and has been called to repair bathtubs, light switches, safety bars, car ports, pipes and more.

“I love doing that … [seniors] are good to work for,” McColgan said. “I give them low prices to help them out, too, because I know it’s not easy today. I’m not looking to get rich; I would rather help them out in a way, as long as they pay for my time. I get a lot of callbacks, especially from them, for that reason.”

On Demand Handyman owner John Anderson, based out of Mayfield, signed up with the service one year ago. Although he has only gotten a couple of calls, he said he’s happy to work for seniors.

“It’s been great; they’re really nice people,” Anderson said. “I try to be honest; honesty will take you a long ways. They’re really good people, you know.”

Even with the current lag in calls, Serfis said it’s important to have the program out there.

“We feel it is a service that we want to have available if people do need it,” Serfis said. “I think that’s the important thing; it’s there if they need it. … Some people have definitely talked about how it hasn’t been too busy, but people say, ‘Don’t stop it.’ It’s a good thing to have, and that’s our purpose: to have a service for older people who might need it.”