Little House, Ojai's busy senior citizens center, has grown by quantum leaps since it opened in a four-car garage leased from the city for $1 a year in 1976.
"It had a dirt floor and an attached room for the chauffeur," recalls J. Wesley Kent, 80, a volunteer supervisor of four building projects at Little House during the past 15 years.
Little House is run by HELP of Ojai Inc., a private social-service agency that offers classes and activities for senior citizens.
City and county officials honored Kent last week when a crowd of 500 attended the dedication of a new, two-story addition that took a year to complete and doubled the size of Little House to 7,500 square feet. Located at 111 W. Santa Ana St., the building is one of several on a former estate donated to Ojai for its City Hall.
Private donations raised $100,000 on top of $150,000 from the organization's reserves, said Executive Director Marlene Spencer. "We did it without any federal, state, county or city funds," she said, noting that the city of Ojai provided in-kind services for the project.
Volunteers helped a contractor build the 3,000-square-foot addition designed by Kent and Ojai architect Jon Diegas. They also refurbished a 2,000-square-foot addition built in 1982, created new meeting rooms, a larger kitchen, bay windows, redwood decking and offices for the Area Housing Authority, Ojai Lions Club and Ojai Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Kent also designed and helped build Oak Tree House next door. The adult day-care center is one of nine programs HELP of Ojai operates, including one that mobilizes more than 500 volunteers throughout the Ojai Valley. They provide residents with van transportation, Meals-on-Wheels, hospice care, vacation house checks, after-school programs for children and dozens of other services.
At the open house last week, artist Roy Patton surprised Kent with a redwood sign proclaiming the upper story the J. Wesley Kent Hall. A framed picture of Kent hangs inside.
"It's the 'in' thing in Ojai to be involved in helping others," Spencer said. "But it's remarkable for someone like Wes to give so much of his time."