Volunteerism: A Revolutionary Look into History – Volunteer Card

Volunteerism: A Revolutionary Look into History

Volunteerism: A Revolutionary Look into History

Volunteerism: A Revolutionary Look into History

We talk a lot about volunteering around here. It’s our hope and desire to provide relevant, helpful information, inspiration and resources for you.

But I think it’s time to take a step back, to think about how we got here to this world filled with thousands of volunteer and volunteer travel options. By taking a look into the history of American organized volunteerism, we can see how individuals and organizations strategically brought about social change. We can learn from them, what to do and what not to do, and we can dream about what lies ahead.

Volunteerism in America

1736 – Benjamin Franklin assembles a group of about thirty men to form the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia. The men’s equipment includes six leather buckets and two stout linen bags, each marked with his name and the name of the company, which he was to bring to every fire (History of Philedelphia, John Thomas Scharf). Thanks to Franklin’s initiative, Philadelphia establishes a structure for all subsequent fire companies.

1857 –The first YMCA is established by George Williams in London, England as a way for young men to stay active in physically and spiritually uplifting ways. Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan is inspired by this English endeavor, and establishes the first YMCA in Boston on December 29, 1851. YMCAs soon began springing up all over the world.

1881 – At age 60, Clara Barton establishes the U.S. branch of the American Red Cross. Providing so much more than medical and spiritual support to the soldiers, Clara doesn’t rest when it comes to serving those affected by the Civil War. After years of waiting to have the Swiss organization approved in America, Clara’s proposition is answered and the Red Cross is finally approved by Chester Arthur. Read more about Clara’s amazing volunteerism and the beginnings of the Red Cross here.

1919 – First Bureau of Volunteer Services is created in Minneapolis, MN. The hope is to conserve war time enthusiasm for peace time needs of the community (The Family: journal of social casework, Volumes 3-4 By Family Service Association of America).

1933 – Franklin D. Roosevelt forms the Civilian Conservation Corps and plants around 3 billion trees. This was a crucial move, especially in areas affected by the dust bowl of the dirty 30s.

1964 – VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) and other national services is created to fight the war on poverty. Originally Kennedy’s dream, it is realized by Lyndon B Johnson, who says, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” (Find full article here.)

1987 – New York City launches CityCares, a program aimed toward getting young professionals involved in volunteer opportunities. They later change their name to Hands on Network in 2004. Hands On currently includes a powerful network of more than 70,000 corporate, faith and nonprofit organizations that are answering the call to serve and creating meaningful change in their communities. Annually, the network delivers approximately 30 million hours of volunteer service valued at about $600 million. Read more here.

1989 – President H.W. Bush develops a 3-part strategy to make community service a national policy of the highest priority. One year later, in response to his call, Points of Light Foundation is created as an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit org to encourage and empower the spirit of service. (Read more here.)

2000 – VolunteerConnections.org is launched to help volunteer centers utilize technology. A few years later it becomes 1-800-Volunteer.org which is now used by individual volunteers to search for opportunities and events, and by non-profits who are able to recruit volunteers online.

Where We Go From Here

Often times it’s easy to feel over-looked or unappreciated as a volunteer. Usually not many people know of your service, not many people thank you, and often even the effects that you have are rather small. But we hope that through looking into history you’ve seen what volunteerism has and will accomplish. As history shows, there is always potential for growth in doing good, always innovative thinkers needed, and always greater effects than we would ever expect!

Big Thanks to Hands On Network who provides a very informative and comprehensive timeline of the history of America’s voluntourism, where much of this information is found. Thanks to other sources cited throughout as well!


Photo: CCC recruits getting ready to leave for Messula