People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. Some volunteer to promote a cause they feel strongly about, such as caring for abandoned pets or handing out literature for their political party. Other people choose volunteerism as a way to attract positive attention from the media or general public, to advance their career or public image. Whatever the motivation, volunteerism has played a significant role in advancing and improving society.
A person who offers their services is considered a volunteer. Typically we assume that the volunteer is offering services free of charge, which is not always the case. Volunteers may or may not receive compensation for their offered labor. The work of a volunteer benefits others. This might include assisting the teacher in the classroom, the hospital candy striper, serving meals at the soup kitchen, calling numbers at the church bingo fundraiser, registering new voters and countless other activities.
People are not always able to meet all of their own needs. We look to our government to help provide us with specific needs, such as education for our children or protection from criminals. Government cannot meet all of the needs of its citizens, and relies on volunteers to help fill the gaps. When funding is limited for schools, volunteers help in the classroom or chaperon school field trips. If a family loses its home to fire, and is under-insured, church volunteers might rally to bring clothes and furnishings.
Volunteerism can bring about significant social changes. When women were seeking the right to vote, volunteers banned together to fight for the cause. During the civil rights struggle, volunteers helped register minority voters. Volunteer movements, such as Habitat for Humanity, provides homes for families. Museum and gallery volunteers help promote the preservation of history, culture and arts, which better educates the populous. Volunteers can save lives when assisting during disasters or bringing medical attention to those in need. Participating as a volunteer can build one's self-image and self-esteem.
The history of volunteerism in America began in colonial times. Survival required members of the community to help one and other. The first libraries were established when citizens donated books, and volunteers helped operate or raise funds to support the institutions. Harvard became the first American college after John Harvard donated over 400 books and funds. During the Revolutionary War citizens opened their homes for medical centers and volunteered their time to man the operation. Throughout history the work of volunteers have improved the educational, medical and overall quality of life for the general public.
In 1736 Ben Franklin started the first volunteer fire department in America. Clara Barton established the Red Cross in 1881. The United Way was formed in 1887. The Rotary Club was founded in 1910, and 6 years later the Lions Club and Kiwanis Club was founded. In 1919 the first Volunteer Bureau was opened, which focused on volunteer workers from the ranks of those released from war service. Over the years the bureau grew, with 28 bureaus by 1940 and 81 bureaus by 1950. In 2005, the Points of Light Foundation reported they had 365 Volunteer Centers, reaching over 188 million people.