Diveristy in Friendship
by Antone R.E. Pierucci
A NEW EXPERIMENT IN SENIOR HOUSING IS BRINGING THE BEST OUT OF THREE MASONS.
By Laura Benys
It’s a typical morning for the three roommates in the big house on campus. John Parcher is at work among his paints and easel. Danilo Manalansan is making breakfast in the kitchen. And John Drewery is just getting back from a morning stroll. What separates the scene from similar ones playing out every day on campuses is that all three tenants here are Social Security age.
Across the country, this kind of co-living arrangement for older adults is growing in popularity as the costs of housing, particularly in real-estate-crazy California, have skyrocketed. In some cases, the benefits aren’t only financial: Despite the serious health implications of social isolation, the AARP reports that one in three Americans over 45 say they’re lonely. Shared housing guarantees a community for the elderly.
That’s the idea behind what’s happening in the house on Old Badillo Road, the first shared senior-living space on the Covina campus of the Masonic Home—a program being run through Masonic Outreach Services (MOS). Parcher, Manalansan, and Drewery are the program’s first three residents.
The 6,500-square-foot house was originally built for the residential program for children, and in 2017 was renovated to include 14 private suites, plus shared common spaces like a kitchen, living room, and patio. Each 400-square-foot suite includes a private bedroom and bathroom.
Shared housing is open to all eligible Masons age 62 and over who are able to live independently, along with their wives or widows. Clients are responsible for a sliding-scale program fee, “Those of us with modest means have few options,” Parcher says. “But here’s a beautiful, affordable home that provides privacy and community.”
Drewery was the first to move in, back in June. Parcher followed three months later, and in October, Manalansan made it a trio. As manager of MOS, Quynh Tran has witnessed the three housemates meet and settle in. She saw an immediate connection. “They didn’t know each other well prior to moving in, but you wouldn’t have known it,” she says. “They welcomed each other like old friends.”
Parcher, an artist, actor, and member of Wisdom Lodge No. 202 in Pasadena, had been struggling with an unsettled living arrangement before moving in, unable to find a permanent home that fit his means. Now that he’s settled into the Covina house, he’s able to spend quality time with his twins. “For the first time in a year, my children have a place to visit their dad,” Parcher says.
Like Parcher, Manalansan spent much of the past year in flux. An officer’s coach and past master of Bellflower Lodge No. 320, he already had a strong connection to the Covina campus: For six months, he’d been volunteering at the Masonic Home, making the drive every Sunday to teach a tai chi class for residents. “I started feeling that this might be my future home—my future family,” Manalansan says.
He eventually toured the shared housing space and was impressed. “You know how when you’re looking for a house to buy, if you feel a positive energy when you enter, that’s how you decide? That’s how I felt,” he says.
Already a member of the Bellflower No. 320 and Redondo No. 328 lodges, Manalansan says he’s now interested in joining the Covina campus’s Destiny Lodge No. 856. Living with Parcher and Drewery is a welcome flashback to his college fraternity days, living among brothers. “The best way for me to be happy is to make sure I have friends with me,” he says. “Now I’ve got another family.”
For Drewery, being on the Covina campus offers other benefits. He grew up in the mountains of Virginia, but lived most of the past 17 years in an RV near Marina del Rey. “I hadn’t seen a halfway-decent tree since I left the East Coast,” he says with a laugh. “Then I moved out here to Covina. It feels like home to me.”
Like Manalansan, Drewery had prior experience with the Masonic Home. A past master of Southern California Lodge No. 529 in Playa del Rey, Drewery learned about shared housing while serving as an ambassador for the Lodge Outreach Program. He’d recently been forced to give up his mobile home and was having trouble affording rent on his studio apartment. After a year there, he decided he needed a change. “I decided to apply to Shared Housing, close my eyes, and see what happened,” he says. “It’s surpassed my expectations.”
All three housemates continue to lead busy lives, coming and going for work, appointments, and errands. But running into one other in the house is a bright spot in the day, they say. Drewery and Manalansan, whose lodges are in the same district, catch each other up on Masonic news. Manalansan and Parcher chat about their kids. Drewery, the self-appointed class clown, usually keeps everyone laughing. “I can feel the brotherhood, the camaraderie,” Manalansan says. “That’s how life should be.”
Drewery chalks some of that communal spirit up to the group’s Masonic connection. “That makes living together easy,” he says. “To be a Mason, you have to have a certain type of heart. So you already know that these guys are people oriented.
“It’s not like we’re living with strangers,” he says. “We’re among brothers.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Satyam Shrestha
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