I grew up listening to the stories told by my aunts and uncles of the Latinos and their plight to make a life during tough economic times and racial injustice. Of those stories was the awkward reminiscing of the days when my dad was an illiterate and troubled teenager learning to survive as an during the 1920s and 30s. That story seemed so inconsistent with the father I knew — a loving and God-fearing man who raised a family with my mom, a man who worked as a farmer for 10 years and then faithfully served the city of Robstown, Texas, for 38 years as a city employee until his retirement. Several days after his funeral I found the answer to this inconsistency within a stack of precious memories and legal documents hidden away was a certificate of appreciation, dated 1933.
Between 1933-42 a voluntary public work relief program recruited unemployed and unmarried men (3 million) to develop our natural resources. The workers planted three billion trees, helped construct the Hoover Dam, and built 97,000 miles of road —to name just a few things. The incentive? Room and board, a stipend that would be used to support their families, and a literacy program (40,000 were taught to read). The program led to improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. At the age of 20, my dad was one of those recruits. The volunteer program was called the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Early Start in America
Benjamin Franklin founded our country’s first volunteer fire agency, believing that citizen service was essential to our democracy. Since then, volunteerism has become a priority for the U.S. The 1960s gave birth to the Peace Corp — 15,000 young men and women making an impact around the world with U.S. technology, cross cultural exposure, and a desire to defeat the “ugly American” stereotype.
Its domestic counterpart was AmeriCorps VISTA, where 5,000 served annually, 40 percent complete bachelor’s degrees. Senior citizens also volunteered through Senior Corps, sometimes called “super volunteer.” In the 1990s, AmeriCorps and the Alliance for Youth initiative were launched and endorsed by five U.S. presidents who met in support of American volunteer workforce.
Benefits of Volunteering
Why is volunteering so important? According to a new Deloitte study of 2,506 U.S. hiring managers, 82 percent of interviewers prefer applicants with volunteer experience while 92 percent said volunteer activities build leadership skills, 85 percent identified better communication skills, and 88 percent praised these volunteers’ “strong character.”
It’s troubling that only 4 percent of American college graduates 25 or older volunteer each year, even though employers rank volunteerism as a factor in hiring. [See www.volunteerhub.com/blog/25.volunteer-statistics.] And volunteering is especially important to Latinos and other minorities as it allows these vulnerable populations to acquire the life skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in this economy.
The North American Division’s Office of Volunteer Ministries provides a system that connects volunteers to service opportunities including positions in teaching, pastoral ministry, construction, medical, maintenance, and administrative work. These volunteers are provided a stipend, room and board, and travel insurance. To reach their place of service, we offer Latinos and Native Americans, in particular, a scholarship up to $1,500 toward their travel expenses.
Given these opportunities, OVM believes that volunteers, serving their communities, can harness the strength of humanity to impact our world with a Christ-centered message of hope and wholeness.
I sometimes wonder how my dad would have turned out if he had not been recruited by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Would he have succumbed to a life of crime?
If not for those life experiences and lessons, would he have raised a family that now includes ministers, teachers, medical professionals, decorated war veterans and yes, the director of the Office of Volunteer Ministries?