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July 2011 

Look Back at Volunteers in History for Motivation and Inspiration  

In This Issue
Featured Resource: By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers
Other Resources
Excerpt: "Volunteers Shape American History"
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Every July in the U.S., we can't help but think about the inspiring individuals in American history who took it upon themselves to stand up and fight for a "new world." No payment, just sacrifice...they were volunteers. Whatever country you're in, the next time you need a reminder (for yourself or your volunteers) of the importance of volunteering in society, take a look at some of the Energize resources on the history of volunteering. Also, showing the volunteers you lead how their efforts fit into the larger picture of citizen involvement is a unique and meaningful way to recognize their work.
resource2 Featured Resource
By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers
By Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell

By the PeopleDiscover the incredible impact volunteers have had on American society in a wide array of fields, and learn about the volunteer tradition of every segment of our population, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or ethnicity. This book remains the only presentation of the full scope and depth of volunteer activity throughout three centuries of American history.

Visit our online bookstore for a book excerpt, table of contents, and what other readers have to say about the book. Available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.
resource2 Other Resources

Voices from the Past
Voices from the Past , a regular section in e-Volunteerism: The Online Journal of the Volunteer Community, explores volunteerism's past through interviews, re-publication of long out-of-print materials, and historical overviews of volunteers' roles, always attempting to be international. Non-subscribers can access the journal for 48 hours for only $10. Here's just a sampling of the complete list :

  • Crafting for Charity - A Global Movement
    The history of blanket making has roots in every culture. Early settlers took their rug making skills and began trade. It wasn't long before trade developed charity components. Learn the story of "crafting for charity" and how it has become an international movement.
  • How Meals on Wheels Started Rolling
    Meals on Wheels exists throughout the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, including Japan. This "Voices from the Past" re-discovers the origins of this well-known, volunteer-intensive social service.
  • Japan's Volunteer Probation Officers
    In this article, we learn the history of Japan's volunteer probation officers and why the Japanese believe that social and community support for offenders' rehabilitation are necessary as part of effective crime prevention.
  • The Legacy of Volunteering by Children
    Read about volunteering by children in the United States and around the world over the last 200 years. Learn about Juvenile Anti-Slavery Societies, the seven million children who became "Modern Heath Crusaders," drives to collect rubber during World War II, and much more.
Resources Book Excerpt
"Volunteers Shape American History"

Excerpt from By The People: A History of Americans as Volunteers  

by Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell

2005, Energize, Inc.  


What makes individuals worthy of historical note? Traditionally, it has been their political power; their literary, artistic, or scientific genius; their willingness to take unusual risks (which are usually only remembered if successful); or their creation of large and lasting enterprises. Fame comes from impact.



Our position is that the individual and combined volunteer actions of thousands of unnamed citizens have had an impact on American society. These actions were of citizens who became involved, not because of coercion or profit, but because they recognized a need and were willing to take responsibility for meeting that need. But because they assumed this responsibility in addition to their everyday duties, and because they did not seek monetary reward, the volunteers themselves may have underestimated the impact of their work. Traditional historians, too, have overlooked the magnitude and diversity of volunteer activities. However, the cumulative effect of many such voluntary actions, occurring as they do in every part of the country and in every decade, makes it apparent that our history has been shaped by everyone...



Just about everyone, at one time or another, is a volunteer. Volunteering is so pervasive in the United States that it can be observed daily in almost every aspect of life. The problem is that volunteering, because it is so pervasive, often goes unrecognized. For instance:
  • Who donates blood?
  • Who runs the parent-teacher organizations in schools?
  • Who goes caroling in hospitals?
  • Who serves on school boards?
  • Who works to preserve historic landmarks?
  • Who appears on fundraising telethons?
  • Who passes out political campaign leaflets?
  • Who uses ham radios to relay calls for help?
  • Who leads 4-H Clubs? Scout troops? Youth sports teams?
  • Who supports community orchestras?
  • Who advocates for less violence on television?
Volunteerism is crucial to a functioning democracy because it mobilizes enormous energy. The more citizens involve themselves as volunteers in all areas, the closer they come to making the ideals of democracy real. Eleanor Roosevelt expressed this concept by identifying two sacrifices necessary to maintain a democracy: first, to give up selfishness, and second, "to give to our government an interested and intelligent participation." Volunteerism is both an expression of patriotism in a pure sense and the means by which a democratic society remains "by the people."





Permission is granted for organizations to reprint this excerpt. Reprints must provide full acknowledgment of the source, as cited here:
Excerpt from By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers  by Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell,
2005, Energize, Inc. Available in the Energize Online Bookstore at
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Energize empowers and inspires leaders of volunteers worldwide. Our specialty is creating and selecting the most relevant, innovative resources in volunteer management. We're advocates for the power of volunteers and for the recognition of the leaders who unleash it.
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