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Retirement community is a hidden gem for city

By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

SPRINGFIELD Since 1999, the Mason-Wright Retirement Community has been providing safe, supportive, affordable housing for area elders of modest means.

Yet most people who drive past the Walnut Street campus don't even know this city gem exists.

"The board and I talked," Whiting Huston, chairman of the Board for the Springfield Home For the elderly, which operates the Mason-Wright Retirement Community, told Reminder Publications during a recent facilities tour. "No one else in the state does what we do. .We have people here who are only on Social Security. They have their own little apartments, their own little kitchens."

And, he said, they are in a place where people care about them, make sure they get three meals a day, monitor their medications, and help them with other daily living tasks, when necessary.

"A lot of people who live in the city don't have the support of family," Houston said.

A legacy of caring

This kind of supportive care is something this organization has been doing it for more than a century. Originally founded in 1897 as the Springfield Home for Aged Men and now chartered under the title of the Springfield Home for the Elderly, the Walnut Street facility is unique in its role as a non-profit provider of housing and health-related services for area seniors.

"One of the things people don't know is that we are the Springfield Home for the Elderly," Houston said. "When we built these buildings we thought that name might be off-putting."

Houston said the Board of Directors instead chose to combine the name of two historical benefactors, Primus Mason a wealthy black philanthropist who had established the first Springfield Home for Aged Men and Horace Wright, another 19th century businessman who left the Home an endowment, for the new campus.

Filling a need

"We're all dealing with elderly [relatives], " Houston said, remarking that his own mother resides in one of the retirement communities in the Valley. "The problem is that there's [often] no interim options between home and nursing home" for modest and low-income elders.

"We're truly that stop-gap situation," Houston said.

He said Mason-Wright often gets referrals from area facilities such as Reeds Landing, when an applicant can't meet the income requirements.

And at Mason-Wright, that difference in income has no affect on the quality of life of its residents. Each floor in Primus Mason court includes comfortably appointed common rooms, neat apartments outfitted with refrigerator-and-microwave kitchenettes, intimate dining rooms, and resident-accessible laundry facilities.

There's also a family dining room on the first floor where residents can host personal gatherings, open kitchen facilities where residents and kin can cook together, a game and computer room. There's also a floor dedicated to the special needs of residents who suffer with memory impairment.

Daily exercise classes, weekly cultural programs and shopping trips and other special events are just some of the activities that keep residents active in their community.

The Wright Townhouses, located directly across the courtyard, offer residents a greater degree of independent living in private townhouse apartments located within the facility's secure campus.

The campus also accommodates the Springfield Senior Center, and the offices of the Six Corners Maple Heights Neighborhood Watch, the Springfield Preservation Trust and a daycare facility, The Arbors Kids at Mason-Wright.

"We do intergenerational programming with the Arbors Kids," Houston said.

Reserving dignity

Though the Mason-Wright Retirement Community is dedicated to serving the needs of low-income elders, it is not, a charity organization. Residents do pay rent based on their income, and the facility helps individuals find additional sources of revenue to make up the difference.

"We have one individual with a total income of $500 a month," Houston said. "The average cost [at Mason-Wright] is $2,500 month."

Houston said there are many grants and programs that can assist low-income elders with the cost of residency and other living needs.

"A lot of people think that the only program [low-income] people can qualify for is welfare. That's not true." Houston said. "We try to get them over the mystique of getting assistance from other programs."

"We help them see what else they can qualify for," he said. In addition, the organization has an endow-ment that can help fill in the gaps to keep the resident in the facility, and the facility operating.

"The endowment pays $500,000 to $600,000 in scholarship awards annually," he said.

Worth the wait

Though the Community currently is at full capacity and has a waiting list, Houston said there's an average annual turnover of 30 percent at Mason-Wright, as there is in most assisted living facilities.

"People do age here; we do deal with some tough issues," he said.

Individuals interested in more information about the Mason-Wright Retirement community should contact 746-2006 or visit their Web site online at