It is impossible to find out exactly how many volunteers are at work today in the United States. Thirty-seven million or so are known to belong to organizations like the Pink Ladies,Travelers’Aid, or Big Brothers;but those who work alone or in small informal groups cannot be counted.The total number of men and women who give their time to help others appears to be between fifty and sixty-eight million.
They do almost anything:they sew, clean, scrub, paint, cook, repair things,record books for the blind, amuse sick children in hospitals,or escort senior citizens who do not want to go out alone.They give their blood; they work in libraries and schools;they translate documents for new citizens with a language problem or raise money to support local symphony orchestras;they answer the telephone calls of the desperate who are thinking of killing themselves,and who need a friendly ear.
Volunteers start community projects too small to attract the attention of organized agencies,or work at jobs for which no funds are available.A handful of city folk will turn an empty lot into a playground for the children of their neighborhood;others decide to repair and paint a few dilapidated houses in their street.Somewhere else women cook and deliver two hot meals a day to elderly people living alone,and too sick or too tired to prepare their own food.
Another group calls lonely old people once a day to chat a little and find out if they are all right.Some college students teach English,mathematics, or drawing to the inmates of a local jail.Young men and women spend part of their weekends collecting empty cans and bottles for the recycling center of their community,and some children pick up the trash left on the beach by the crowd of a summer holiday.Anywhere one looks, the army of volunteers is hard at work —not only in the United States,but in many other countries where “volunteerism” is spreading.