Our History

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, serving those most in need alongside local members of the organization. They 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 formerly incarcerated people 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 in its 125th year, 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 1,000 employees.

Now in its second century of caring for those in need, Volunteers of America-Greater New York understands what it takes to heal families and individuals in crisis. Our skilled, professional staff have years of experience providing care for survivors of domestic violence, individuals and families—including veterans—experiencing homelessness, people living with HIV/AIDS, behavioral health, and substance use issues, adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, preschoolers with developmental delays, older adults on limited incomes, and at-risk youth.

Volunteers of America-Greater New York expertly galvanizes resources within neighborhoods—including corporate and other community partners who provide many volunteer services to support those in our programs, and help them feel cared for and connected to the community.

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 volunteering to make service their life work. 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.

Today, our services are delivered through a partnership of professional staff, volunteers and other community supporters.