Volunteers of America, Inc. History
Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3427
Telephone: (703) 341-5000
Toll Free: 800-899-0089
Fax: (703) 341-7000
Sales: $711 million (2003)
NAIC: 623220 Residential Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities; 623312 Homes for the Elderly; 62411 Child and Youth Services; 62421 Community Food Services; 62419 Other Individual and Family Services; 624221 Temporary Shelters; 62423 Emergency and Other Relief Services; 62431 Vocational Rehabilitation Services; 813319 Other Social Advocacy Organizations; 922140 Correctional Institutions
In addition to being one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive human services organizations, Volunteers of America is an interdenominational church--a church with a distinctive ministry of service. For more than 100 years Volunteers of America has provided essential services to heal both body and soul. In fact, what sets Volunteers of America apart from most other human services organizations is that we are spiritually based. We provide services to people in need, and are motivated to service by our beliefs of compassion for people, forgiveness, and hope for mankind. Volunteers of America acknowledges service as an expression of faith. We believe that serving others is an important means of serving God. Building on that spiritual base, Volunteers of America provides human service programs and opportunities for individual and community involvement for people of all faiths. Volunteers of America offers people a very unique opportunity to put their faith into action. Working together with the help of our committed volunteer board members and volunteers we can achieve our collective mission and make the world a more compassionate place to live.
- Volunteers of America is founded in New York City; halfway houses are opened.
- The group's first Sidewalk Santa appears in Los Angeles.
- A new headquarters building is acquired.
- Volunteers assists 4.5 million with food or lodging during the Great Depression.
- The group is serving two million people per year.
- Headquarters is relocated from New York to Louisiana.
- Military ranks are replaced with corporate job titles.
- The organization is restructured.
- An alcoholism treatment exchange program with Soviet specialists is conducted.
- The group's headquarters is moved to Alexandria, Virginia.
Volunteers of America, Inc., is a leading nonprofit human services organization in the United States. Volunteers of America considers itself a nondenominational Christian church with a ministry of service. Its programs serve nearly 1.8 million people a year. The organization prides itself on helping those with immediate, critical needs: the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, the incarcerated, abused children, and at-risk youth. The group underwent a sweeping reorganization in the early 1980s, doing away with military ranks and uniforms in favor of corporate-style titles and accountabilities. A number of business magazines have commended the group's efficiency.
Volunteers of America was spawned by another well-known nonprofit group. Its founders, Ballington and Maud Booth, were son and daughter-in-law of Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth. They had arrived in America in 1887 to lead the U.S. branch of the Salvation Army, which had been founded in Britain in 1865. The Booths introduced programs such as social work in the New York slums and oversaw the construction of a new headquarters building.
Ballington and Maude left the Salvation Army in early 1896, complaining about the father's autocratic ways and the amount of money being sent back to England. On March 8, 1896, they told a throng of thousands at New York City's Cooper Union that they were forming a new organization with "The Lord My Banner" as its motto. This marked the birth of Volunteers of America, whose articles or incorporation were signed on November 4, 1896.
Ballington Booth was chosen as commander-in-chief, a rank soon changed to that of general, for a ten-year term. The group was well established by the end of the year, notes historian Herbert A. Wisby, Jr., with more than 140 posts in 20 states across America.
One of the group's early missions was serving prison inmates. Maud Booth was the first woman ever allowed into Sing Sing Prison. The Volunteer Prison League (VPL) was founded there in 1896 and involved 2,000 prisoners at eight institutions by the end of 1897. Within fifteen years, writes Wisby, VPL had 60,000 members. Maud Booth's work at Sing Sing led to the formation of the nation's first halfway houses, known as Hope Halls.
Volunteers of America took over existing meals programs in cities that included Chicago, where it fed 7,000 people on its first Christmas Day. Homeless shelters were also established there and in other locations. The group established its first home for unmarried mothers in Newark, New Jersey, in May 1899.
Innovations in the 20th Century
Volunteers of America had introduced a number of new programs in its first four years, and the innovations continued after 1900, when the group's first Sidewalk Santa rang his bell in Los Angeles. Ten years later, the Santas appeared in New York City. By the early 1900s, the organization was serving thousands of people each year. It had an annual budget of several hundred thousand dollars.
The new St. Gregory's Hospital, the only one in New York City offering free services for those unable to pay, was acquired in 1906. It was renamed Volunteer Hospital in December 1906. Another group took over St. Gregory's in 1922, and it later became part of the NYU Hospital system.
Volunteers of America's first headquarters was a few rooms at the Bible House on the corner of Fourth Avenue and 8th Street. After several moves, the group acquired a six-story headquarters building at 34 West 28th Street in April 1907.
The Volunteers found themselves weakened financially after World War I, and a huge challenge was a decade away. The Great Depression challenged the group with increased calls for assistance at a time when its financial backers were less able to help. Nevertheless, the group provided assistance to millions. From 1931 to 1936, reports Wisbey, Volunteers of America served nearly 25 million free meals, plus another four million paid for by money or work. The group help find employment for more than 416,000 people. More than 4.5 million in all were assisted with food or lodging, and another 7.5 million were afforded religious services.
Ballington Booth died in 1940, followed by his wife eight years later. Their son, Charles Brandon Booth, was commander-in-chief from 1949 to 1958, when he was succeeded by John McMahon.
Volunteers of America served a range of different populations, helping provide housing for low to middle-income families, the elderly, at-risk youth, and single mothers. There were group homes for the emotionally and physically disabled. Alcohol and drug addiction programs were another area of service. The organization also provided meals on wheels for senior citizens.
Other programs thrived in the 1950s. In the late 1950s, the Santas were raising money for about 50,000 meals per year in New York. Volunteers of America had 2,575 employees by that time, two-thirds of them trained social workers. The group began opening nursing homes in the early 1970s. Among the first was Maplewood Care Center near St. Paul, Minnesota.
Reorganization in Louisiana in 1980s
Raymond C. Tremont became the organization's general in 1980, succeeding John McMahon. The first reorganization in the group's history ensued over the next three years. The blue uniforms were dropped. The military ranks were replaced with titles from the corporate world, and the structure was made less authoritarian, with the addition of local boards that included more lay people. Tremont also moved the group's headquarters from New York City to Metairie, Louisiana.
Volunteers of America began operating prisons in 1984. The first was a 42-bed facility near St. Paul, Minnesota. Another new project was a literacy program operated in partnership with Literacy Volunteers of America and the American Association of Retired People (AARP).
The organization's revenues were $132 million in 1984. In the mid-1980s, the organization had a presence in 37 states. It ran the country's largest year-round shelter for homeless men, an 800-person unit in New York City. However, Tremont told the Associated Press, the group was known in some circle as "the invisible agency" since relatively few people were aware of it.
The Volunteers of America became identified with its thrift shops and bell-ringing Santas soliciting donations at Christmas. However, the latter appeared only in New York City, reported the Associated Press in 1985, and the stores accounted for only 5 percent of activity.
CEO Raymond Tremont retired in 1991 and was replaced by J. Clint Cheveallier, formerly a vice-president at the Baton Rouge office. Both were second-generation members of the group, reported the Advocate of Baton Rouge. The organization had a yearly budget of $230 million at the time; more than 85 percent of funding came from the government. It had 8,000 employees in 200 chapters, plus many thousands of volunteers. Cheveallier made raising the organization's profile a priority.
In 1990, Volunteers of America alcohol addiction specialists entered an exchange program with the Soviet Union, where treatment methods and facilities bore a greater resemblance to those of a gulag prison camp than a social service organization. The Soviet state was notorious for alcoholism. As part of the exchange, 16 Soviet "narcologists" visited Volunteers of America treatment centers in 12 U.S. cities. The group's drug and alcohol programs assisted 50,000 people a year.
Cheveallier retired as president and CEO in 1996 and was succeeded by Charles Gould. Gould, an attorney, had formerly led VOA Health Services, based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, which operated nursing homes and retirement communities in five states. It had revenues of about $60 million a year.
A Web site, www.sidewalksanta.org, was launched in 1997 as part of the organization's holiday fundraising efforts. Visitors could also donate money and discover volunteer opportunities through the Volunteers' main site.
Volunteers of America's national headquarters were relocated to Alexandria, Virginia, in 2000. Its proximity to federal lawmakers and other nonprofits were a reason for the move. The head office had a staff of 35 people. The organization's programs were serving more than one million people a year. The annual budget exceeded $500 million in 2001. By fiscal 2004, that number had reached $711 million.
Principal Subsidiaries: Volunteers of America of Alaska, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Arkansas, Inc.; Volunteers of America Bay Area, Inc.; Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Inc.; Volunteers of America Colorado Branch; Volunteers of America of Florida, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Greater Baton Rouge; Volunteers of America of the Carolinas; Volunteers of America of Central Ohio, Inc.; Volunteers of America, Dakotas; Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans, Inc.; Volunteers of America Greater New York; Volunteers of America Greater Sacramento & Northern Nevada, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Illinois; Volunteers of America of Indiana, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Kentucky and Tennessee, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Los Angeles; Volunteers of America of Massachusetts, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Michigan, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Minnesota; Volunteers of America North Alabama, Inc.; Volunteers of America of North Louisiana; Volunteers of America of Northeast & North Central Ohio, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Northern New England; Volunteers of America of Northwest Ohio, Inc.; Volunteers of America Southeast, Inc.; Volunteers of America Ohio River Valley, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Oklahoma, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Oregon, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania; Volunteers of America Southwest California; Volunteers of America of Spokane; Volunteers of America of Texas, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Utah, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Western Nebraska, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Western New York; Volunteers of America of Western Washington, Inc.; Volunteers of America of Wisconsin; Volunteers of America of Wyoming.
Principal Competitors: Salvation Army.
- Bartlett, Kay, "VOA Drops Military Look, Moves to Diversify Work," Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, September 2, 1985, p. 5J.
- ------, "Volunteers of America: Santa Claus and Thrift Shops?," Associated Press, August 23, 1985.
- "Charles Brandon Booth Is Dead; Headed Volunteers of America," New York Times, April 17, 1975, p. 36.
- "Gen. Booth of Volunteers of America Retiring to Life of Sailing and Writing," New York Times, September 5, 1957, p. 15.
- Hattersley, Roy, Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army, New York: Doubleday, 2000.
- Heitman, Danny, "America's Team; Volunteers of America Celebrating 100 Years of Service in American and 75 or So in Baton Rouge," Baton Rouge Advocate, April 15, 1996, p. 1C.
- "La. Man to Lead National VOA," Baton Rouge State Times, May 24, 1990, p. 1B.
- McKinley, Edward H., Marching to Glory: The History of the Salvation Army in the United States of America, 1880-1980, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980.
- Martin, Karen, "Last 'General' Views VOA Career; Ray Tremont Made Big Changes in Organization during His Service," Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, January 16, 1991, p. 1C.
- ------, "New President Aims to Polish Image of VOA," Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, January 16, 1991, p. 1C.
- Oliver, Daniel T., "How Social-Service Contracting Has Transformed Charity," World & I, November 1, 1999, p. 323.
- Renz, Christine, "Built to Last: Ten Keys to a Long-Lived Organization," Nonprofit World, November 1, 1999, p. 33.
- "Santas Are Back in Nylon Beards to Open 50th Appeal," New York Times, November 22, 1958, p. 8.
- "VOA to Help Soviets with Alcoholism Treatment Plans," Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate, October 8, 1989, p. 9B.
- "Volunteers of America to Move to Alexandria," Washington Post, August 30, 1996, p. D2.
- Wisbey, Herbert A., Jr., The Volunteers of America: 1896-1948: Era of the Founders, Revised Edition, Metairie, Louisiana: 1994.
- Youngblood, Dick, "Having Your Corporate Heart in the Right Place Makes a Huge Difference," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), August 3, 1994, p. 2D.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 66. St. James Press, 2004.