“I have seen Americans making great and sincere sacrifices for the key common good and a hundred times I have noticed that, when needs be, they almost always gave each other faithful support.”
–Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835
Who gives blood in the United States? Who leads Boy Scout troops? Who sings carols in hospitals during the holidays? Who puts out fires and rescues people in medical emergencies? They are volunteers, so woven into the fabric of U.S. life that they often go unnoticed.
This issue of eJournalUSA is dedicated to the unheralded citizens who collectively contribute some $173 billion annually through their unpaid labor. They are part of a tradition of volunteerism that has deep roots in U.S. society. Firefighting was an early form of volunteerism that Benjamin Franklin introduced in Philadelphia in 1736. This innovative idea spread rapidly, and within a few years the cities up and down the eastern seaboard of North America boasted volunteer fire companies.
The tradition of volunteerism flourishes today in communities large and small and in a myriad forms as the Internet opens new vistas for volunteerism, allowing people to help others worldwide without leaving home. The tradition is embodied by health care workers serving in areas devastated by natural disasters, by the “grandfathers” of Alexandria, Virginia, who mentor young boys growing up without fathers, and by volunteers who help refugees from distant lands build new lives in U.S. cities. The Spirit of Volunteerism recounts their stories and the stories of those whom they serve.
Volunteering: An American Tradition
by Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell
American volunteering began when North America was a wilderness and continues today.
America’s Volunteer Firefighters
by Rick J. Markley
Volunteer firefighting began in the American colonies and the tradition remains strong now.
It Takes a Grandfather
by Jeanne Holden
Volunteer “grandfathers” mentor fatherless boys.
Partners in Health: Listening Builds a Community
by Lisa J. Armstrong
Listening to Haitians’ needs builds a clinic and a community.
Resettling in Seattle
by Charlotte West
The International Rescue Committee helps refugees build new lives in a new land.
IBM’s Corporate Volunteers
by Kathryn McConnell
One of the world’s largest computer companies encourages staff to share their skills in developing countries.