The Mountain Family wants to mentor people looking to change their lives

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Richard Umholtz, one of the founders of The Mountain Family, believes he survived a difficult medical ordeal because he was meant to help others.


Richard Umholtz says he nearly died seven years ago.

“I came into the house and went splat on the floor. I did not trip,” he said. “It was like somebody turned the electrical switch off … Everything worked mentally. Physically, nothing worked.”

He lay on the floor of his Hilltown home for 12 hours, he said, until two fingers worked and he could call 9-1-1 for help.

He was in the hospital, where he had five seizures, for 32 days, battling both sepsis and MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, he said. After that, he was in Our Lady of Mercy Nursing Home for 85 days.

“It dawned on me, when I got out of there: Why did I survive?”

Umholtz says in this week’s Enterprise podcast, he believes he was meant to help others.

A group of about a dozen older people have formed The Mountain Family, a new organization that, according to its brochure, “hopes to reignite the heart of the young new generation” by providing “the opportunity to re-engage both head and hands.”

The group has contacted a number of area businesses and tradesmen that have offered to provide paid traineeships to people looking to start a new career, Umholtz said. Information about The Mountain Family, including first names and phone numbers of a half-dozen organizers, is available on Facebook.

Listed trades include carpentry, mechanics, locksmithing, and construction while other careers include social work, nursing, insurance, finance, and academia.

“If you would like to pursue further education, we can provide the opportunity,” the Mountain Family brochure says. “Education opens many doors for future employment.”

Applicants needn’t have graduated from high school, said Umholtz. “That doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “What does make a difference is what you want to do and how we can help you.”

Applicants will fill out a form and then “meet the person who is offering you a traineeship,” Umholtz said.

Asked how the internships would be paid for, Umholtz said, “The various companies and corporations that I talked to are going to put them on their payroll as a trainee.”

The fledgling group is not part of a larger organization. “It just came about from … a few older people over a cup of coffee talking about what we can do with our knowledge,” said Umholtz. He described the organizers as “just volunteers, saying, ‘We need to do something.’”

One of the organizers, when asked what title she’d like, said “Mom,” so the idea of The Mountain Family was born.

Umholtz believes a lot of young people were thrown off course by the pandemic. “A number of people that I’m aware of … didn’t go back to school,” he said.

Umholtz himself values education. He grew up with two sisters and a brother on Ramsey Place off of New Scotland Avenue. Their mother was a homemaker and their father — who was in the Army’s ambulance corps in France during World War I — worked for the New York Telephone Company.

Umholtz graduated from Vincentian Institute in 1953, and spent 13 years in night school to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in public administration, he said.

In his youth, he learned a life lesson when he and some other kids wanted to play football on an empty lot in the neighborhood. The lot’s owner said they could play football there if they kept the field mowed and raked, which they did.

“I might add, we did not have power mowers either,” said Umholtz. But the idea of moving a project forward by helping others stuck.

Umholtz, who retired from a career as a supervision administrator with the state’s transportation department, had been involved in an earlier Hilltown not-for-profit called Safe Haven.

Founded by Westerlo Baptist Minister Don Lyons, the organization helped Hilltown families who were turned out of their homes and particularly helped abused women and their children — who were often unable or unwilling to seek services in Albany.

“You get 10 people who experience domestic violence,” said Umholtz, “you can help one; the other nine don’t want any help — and that’s it. That’s a fact of life.”

So, he expects a similar response from his current venture. “I’m going to guess, if there’s 12 to 15 young people who become aware of this, hopefully, there’ll be one — and that’s the one we want to try and help — the person who wants to do something with their life.”

He gave, as an example, one domestic-violence survivor who was helped by Safe Haven. She was always looking down, Umholtz said, and had low self-esteem. 

“You’re not leaving until you look at me,” Umholtz told her. “So she did.”

He then told her he was going to ask a difficult question. “If I ask you to do something, will you do it and you don’t know what I’m going to ask you?”

She said “yes,” he reported.

“I said, ‘OK, congratulations. You enroll in college.’ I knew she was brilliant. She didn't know she was ready because she had low self-esteem. I called up a friend of mine in an area college … and said, ‘I need something.’”

The College of Saint Rose, Umholtz said, paid for her tuition and books — and she had a 4.0 average at the end of her first semester.

Umholtz believes The Mountain Family will provide that kind of spark for people looking for a new start or a different direction in their lives.

He says the organization is looking both for people who want to be mentored and for more people or organizations who want to provide training.

“We’re not going to turn anybody down,” he said.

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