Volunteers of America was founded in 1896 in New York City by social reformers Ballington and Maud Booth. How they came to develop one of America's largest and most successful faith-based social service organizations is a story of commitment, devotion, spirit — and great joy.
Activists with a Cause
On March 8, 1896, Ballington Booth, the tall, handsome son of the Salvation Army founders, and his wife, Maud Charlesworth Booth, the refined daughter of an Anglican rector, made a bold announcement. In the Great Hall of New York City's Cooper Union, they pronounced to a standing-room-only crowd of thousands the birth of a new organization dedicated to serving the spiritual and material needs of the poor and disadvantaged-Volunteers of America. Maud and Ballington envisioned a movement committed to "reaching and uplifting" the American people. On behalf of the new organization, the Booths pledged to "go wherever we are needed, and do whatever work comes to hand," a declaration that has guided Volunteers of America's outreach efforts ever since.
For more than 40 years, Maud and Ballington traveled the country, helping volunteers from all walks of life serve those most in need. The organization helped the poor living in tenement houses, founded day nurseries and summer camps, and started the Volunteer Prison League to support prisoners and their families.
A Woman Before Her Time
Maud Booth became a pioneer in the prison reform movement and was known as the "Little Mother" of the prisons. She also established the first halfway houses, known as Hope Halls, which helped former convicts readjust to society. To this day Volunteers of America, Inc. manages similar programs based on her model.
Early advocates for women's rights, Maud and Booth included an article in the organization's constitution establishing equality between men and women.
When Ballington died in 1940, Maud, then 75, assumed responsibility for steering the growing organization. Maud and Ballington's son Charles Brandon Booth took the helm in 1948 upon his mother's death. In 1953, Charles moved the National Headquarters from 28th Street to the Upper West Side. The new headquarters on West 85th Street served as the National Headquarters until 1979 when it was moved to New Orleans and eventually to Alexandria, Virginia.
The Future is Now
Today Volunteers of America, Inc. helps almost 1.5 million people in 46 states each year. One of the world's largest and most comprehensive nonprofit human services organizations, it employs more than 16,000 professionals and recruits thousands of volunteers.
Now, one year away from its 125th anniversary, Volunteers of America's services have evolved with the changing times, however the organization still retains the essence of Maud and Ballington's work.
Volunteers of America-Greater New York
The history of the Greater New York affiliate is intricately intertwined with the national organization. The national headquarters, originally in New York City, relocated to New Orleans in 1979 and to Alexandria, VA in 2000. The Greater New York affiliate is one of the largest, with an operating budget close to $100 million and more than 1,300 employees.
Now in its second century of caring for those in need, Volunteers of America, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization, understands what it takes to heal families and individuals in crisis. Providing care for people with mental illness and addiction, people with HIV/AIDS, teens struggling in the foster care system, offenders returning to the community from prison, veterans, older adults trying to remain in the community, and adults and children with developmental disabilities, our skilled professionals have years of experience and thousands of successes.
Volunteers of America, Inc. expertly galvanizes myriad resources within neighborhoods - including individual and corporate volunteers who provide many special services critical to helping make everyday miracles a reality. In addition, the organization offers volunteer training, placement and referral services to thousands of people each year who are looking for opportunities to build stronger communities.
Since its founding in 1896, Volunteers of America-Greater New York's work has evolved with the changing social and political landscapes, but it remains true to its mission to "reach and uplift all people."
About Our Name
The name Volunteers of America was selected when the organization was founded in 1896. It signified that the organization was comprised of people voluntarily choosing to help others. In those days, a volunteer was anyone who was committed to a mission or cause. Since its earliest days, when Volunteers of America brought food, medicine and comfort to people not served by other charities, volunteering has been instrumental in every aspect of the organization's ministry of service.
Today, our services are delivered through a partnership of professional staff, volunteers and other community supporters.