With a $6 million annual budget, the volunteer organization, now called PVI, serves thousands of local seniors through a range of programs: Meals on Wheels, the adult daycare center Rosener House and Little House activity center — which offers everything from bridge and book groups to ceramics, dance and fitness classes, to "Waffle Wednesdays" and wine tastings.
Since its inception, the volunteer group has helped redefine and expand services and activities for Midpeninsula seniors with a goal of empowering them to age in place. Programs for seniors have grown and evolved with community needs, PVI CEO Peter Olson said.
"As seniors were unable to come to Little House, we began to take food to them, and hence we're still providing Meals on Wheels," Olson said.
Before Alzheimer's was really known, the group opened Rosener House to cater to those unable to come to Little House by themselves, he added.
"There are some amazing firsts that this organization really pioneered, and it all started with Little House," Olson said.
Little House became the nation's first suburban senior center when it opened in 1949 a small cottage, near its current location at 800 Middle Ave. in Menlo Park, after several local doctors suggested that the newly formed Peninsula Volunteers women's service club focus its efforts on the emerging field of gerontology.
"In modern urban life, there is no place for people over 60 or 65," physician Frank Hinman told the volunteers at a 1948 meeting at the Menlo Circus Club, as reported by the Palo Alto Times. "They are thrown out of their jobs and forced to retire from most activities of life."
The new activity center was created to be a place to "activate the elders," and help them avoid the "psychological disturbances that affect older people ... due to their resentment of the role they are forced to play in modern life," according to the newspaper report.
Little House quickly became a model for the launch of other senior centers across the nation, Olson said. And in 1962, Peninsula Volunteers secured the first federal grants for affordable senior housing, creating Crane Place and Partridge Place, senior apartment complexes totaling 123 units still operated today by an affiliated nonprofit.
Melissa Badger, an event planner who's organizing the 75th anniversary festivities, said that as a child she worked alongside her mother, volunteer Shirley Matteson, who managed the Turnabout Shop on El Camino Real in the 1960s, which raised funds for PVI programs.
"We spent a lot of time there" Badger recalled, crediting her lifelong interest in design to the hours she spent arranging merchandise at the Turnabout Shop, which closed in the 1990s.
"There's a deep history to this organization," which will be on display at the Oct. 1 gala, Badger said.
Today, PVI programs for seniors are fueled by a mix of paid staff and volunteers. Revenue sources for the $6 million annual budget come from donations and private grants (64%); program and contract fees (20%) and government funding (16%).
PVI includes about 300 volunteers who pitch in to pack or deliver meals, tutor seniors on tech issues, act as companions to seniors with cognitive difficulties at Rosener House, make birthday cards and gift bags, or perform administrative work.
Ann Eisenberg, the group's director of volunteer engagement said she's recently had no trouble recruiting volunteers. During the COVID-19 shutdown, Eisenberg said she received more calls and emails from prospective volunteers than she could handle.
"With more people working at home, schedules are more flexible and younger people are able to help us during the day," Eisenberg said. "We still have a steady stream of retirees who reach out as well."
To volunteer or learn more about PVI, go to 1pvi.org.
PVI is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a gala on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park. The event includes cocktails, dinner and dancing and a guest performance by Grammy,Tony and Emmy award-winning entertainer Kristin Chenoweth. A variety of items will be on auction, including an opportunity to share the field and catch a pass from former NFL quarterback Joe Montana in the end-zone at the Rose Bowl Stadium. Tickets are expected to sell out. For more information about the gala, go to 1pvi.org/TheGala.