When adults take their first full-time job and move into the world of financial responsibility, they often leave behind the clubs and hobbies of their school days. This is a natural consequence of a full working schedule, but it means that altruism is often forsaken save for a few annual charitable donations. Volunteerism, or the act of performing a job for no pay, is nonetheless a crucial part of society. Many organizations devoted to providing for the underprivileged rely on volunteers to stay running. Finding time to help others may not generate an income, but it can create beneficial feelings of self-worth and open up new opportunities and experiences.
History of Volunteering
Volunteering originally referred to men joining a military unit voluntarily. It gained a greater reputation outside of war in the 1800s, when the public began to learn about and care for the growing class of needy families. Common causes included slavery, women’s rights and tending to the urban poor. The Civil War created a small army of volunteer women who sewed and nursed for soldiers on both sides. The World Wars and the Great Depression further called for charitable work, and it was at this time that the many volunteer organizations still active today began springing up.
Types of Volunteering
There are many opportunities to volunteer in the world. Some people, especially students, take an entire year to go abroad and assist in foreign societies. They build houses, deliver food, administer medicines, educate and help families become more self-sufficient with specialized technology. Volunteers in this system are usually given food, board and a small stipend by the host organization.
Other volunteers stay closer to home but have just as positive an impact. There are volunteers in soup kitchens, animal shelters and schools, assisting in any way they can. They are often the only line of defense for poor families. These volunteers work a few hours every week and often establish close ties with their peers and organizations.
Individuals with specialized skills may find their talents put to better use in more advanced volunteer positions. For example, many cities operate with volunteer EMT and firefighters, who are ready to spring into action at any time. Similarly, lawyers may contribute to a charity or worthy case free of charge.
Finally, there is also disaster volunteering, which is irregular but of vital importance when lives are in danger. These people fill and stack sandbags against oncoming storms, help people evacuate and man shelters full of refugees. Fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes all require the active participation of citizens to save entire cities.
The Impact of Volunteering in Today’s Society
It’s a well-known, if cruel, fact that sometimes the most important causes garner the least funding. Difficult economic times in particular are leaner for the poor and the nonprofit organizations than they are for the middle and upper classes. Because of this, schools and employers promote volunteer efforts for the betterment of society as a whole. Students applying for competitive colleges are expected to have at least one charitable experience on their resume, and some companies give their employees paid leave to help others. Now that volunteering is such a mainstream activity, the greatest difficulty is in securing donors, providing training and placing people where they can be most useful.
The most well-known volunteer organization in America today is the Peace Corps. Members travel to other nations to share cultures and help impoverished societies, then return to the United States to teach citizens about the rest of the world. The Corps is a major commitment, taking up over two years of a volunteer’s life. It is active in 68 nations today.
The American Red Cross is a similar organization to the Peace Corps, only it focuses on emergency relief rather than community building. Members travel to the sight of natural disasters and war to provide food, medicine and shelter to those caught in the middle.
Even McDonalds has a volunteer program. Ronald McDonald House Charities employs over 30,000 willing individuals to host dinners and movie nights for the poor, establish community gardens and watch children while their parents are at work.