A few years ago Kurt Marttila found himself in the Sandwich Generation — squeezed between helping his elderly parents and taking care of all the responsibilities of a husband and father. “I watched my dad as his health declined,” Martilla says. “He wanted to stay in his own home, but to do that he needed help with things like getting the groceries and doing household repairs. I did all I could but I also felt guilty when I was taking time away from my wife and my three children.”
The experience sent Marttila to the Internet for ways to find additional help for his parents. But as he became increasingly frustrated with his inability to find exactly the type of service his parents needed, he began to think the solution was to open a business of his own.
Marttila had no experience in the typical careers usually associated with assisting seniors, such as healthcare or social services. He had worked most of his career in the international trade show business. He received his bachelor’s degree in German and economics from Duke University in 1986 and an MBA from the University of North Carolina in 1995. He spent several years working in Germany, Thailand, and Panama, and left a job as director of marketing with a consulting firm to open his own business.
His new career has taken him even closer to his roots than he expected. He had moved to Lawrenceville with his parents in 1979, at the age of 14, and now finds himself in an office above Fedora’s Cafe at 2633 Main Street, directly across the street from his high school alma mater, the Lawrenceville School.
Another surprise, he says is that his new business is part of a franchise. “I originally thought of opening something on my own,” he says. “I wasn’t sure exactly what it should be, but when I came across the Seniors Helping Seniors website, I knew this was the right model.”
Matching seniors with seniors. “Seniors Helping Seniors is an in-home service that allows me to serve multiple groups in our community,” Martilla says. “It’s an ideal opportunity to connect active seniors with those who require some assistance to maintain their independence.”
The Seniors Helping Seniors model matches seniors based upon the services needed, as well as common interests. The company provides a broad range of non-medical services, allowing people to remain in their own homes and live independently, while also enabling senior providers to help others, stay active, and supplement their incomes.
The goal of the company is “to provide meaningful improvements in the lives of seniors and their families through our delivery of services,” he says. “I want our Seniors Helping Seniors office to be the first place that seniors call.”
Marttila officially opened the doors to his business in January and already has 10 senior “providers” and several clients, also known as “receivers.” He works to match his clients’ interests with those of his providers, who handle a wide variety of services. They run errands, grocery shop, do small household repairs — anything that does not involve personal care or healthcare.
Anyone interested in his services, either as a client or as a provider can reach him at 609-512-1104 www.shsnj.com).
Martilla realizes that he is not just providing services to his clients. Companionship is a big part of the mix. “I have one client who likes to play Scrabble and a provider who comes over to play with him once a week,” he says. Another provider is helping a client organize a lifetime of photos into albums. When a prospective client or family members first calls his office, Marttila meets with them to discuss exactly what their needs and their interests are. A good match between the client and provider is one of the secrets to success, he believes.
The providers can set their own hours and number of days that they work. “This is the perfect job for an active senior who has retired,” says Marttila, who saw both ends of the retirement spectrum through his father, Gordon. “When dad first retired he had trouble finding things to do. He wanted to be needed and he felt that that had been taken away from him when he was no longer working.”
As Gordon and his wife, Eleanor, grew older, however, their needs changed. “My parents have gone through open-heart surgeries, knee replacements, and radiation treatments,” he says. His father died of cancer about a year ago. After his death, his mom decided to move into a continuing care facility, but it didn’t really work for her. “She still goes to work in Princeton five days a week. The facility she was in just wasn’t designed for someone with a fulltime job.”
Martilla’s brother added an apartment for their mother to his home in Doylestown, and now at 83, she still commutes daily to Princeton.
Choosing a franchise. The Seniors Helping Seniors franchise organization has 10 regional owners and more than 80 franchise partners in 26 states. Marttila’s is the first to open in New Jersey.
While Marttila had not originally intended to become part of a franchise, he now sees the value that his brings. “I had no experience in this area and I had no experience as a business owner,” he says. “The franchise has helped me in a variety of ways, with processes, with the documentation I need, with brochures. It’s been very helpful.”