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“We Will Go Wherever We Are Needed and Do Whatever Comes to Hand”
Volunteers of America Celebrates 125 Years of Service
The disCOurse is a place for people to share their lived experiences and their perspectives on the past with an eye toward informing our present. Here, a member of the Volunteers of America team recognizes an organization that’s provided more than a century of compassionate aid to communities in need in Colorado and throughout the nation.
As Volunteers of America honors its 125th anniversary, it is important to consider the history of the organization’s founding, its services, and where it is today. The founders of Volunteers of America Colorado (VOAC), Maud and Ballington Booth, were originally sent to America in the late 1800s to command the US branch of the Salvation Army on behalf of their English counterpart—until they were suddenly asked to leave their American post. The British side was not happy about the “Americanization” of the Salvation Army and of the Booths, and asked for their resignations. After receiving the news of their recall, the founders were prepared to turn in their keys and retire from the Salvation Army permanently. They had lost confidence in the direction of the organization, and left for good on February 21, 1896. Just days later, Ballington and Maud Booth announced from New York City that they would start a new organization, Volunteers of America, with a mission: “We will go wherever we are needed and do whatever comes to hand.”
That same year, many of the previous Salvation Army “posts” transitioned into Volunteers of America posts, including Colorado locations in Boulder, Pueblo, and Leadville. The programs were primarily gospel; missions offered a daily soup kitchen, evening religious services, and a place for individuals to sleep at night. Later, the missions also offered work to unemployed men, rehabilitating furniture and housewares donated to VOA for resale in thrift stores. This was a key part of the program—soup, work, and a safe place to sleep. Today, lodging is still a priority of the organization, and VOA Colorado offers a range of housing services including twenty-five affordable housing properties and several emergency shelters.
Co-founder Maud Booth was an extraordinary woman, dubbed “Little Mother of the Prisons” for pioneering the Volunteer Prison League, which provided support for inmates and helped ex-convicts re-enter society. She established and opened a number of homes, each named “Hope Hall,” for recently released male prisoners. These were the first halfway houses in America; former convicts could live, receive meals, get help obtaining jobs, and reconnect with their families. VOA Colorado continues to provide re-entry services to today’s formerly incarcerated population through the Colorado Rapid Rehousing for Re-entry program. There, participants work one-on-one with a case manager to secure permanent housing and address any other participant-identified goals, including connection to physical and mental health care, employment, public benefit acquisition, and family reunification.
Volunteers of America has always had a soft spot for children and families, and from boys’ and girls’ homes in the early 1900s to the VOA Colorado Early Childhood Education Center now, it is vital that Colorado’s youth get the help they need to thrive. In the 1930s VOAC began hosting “fresh air camps,” allowing children to experience camping in the Colorado mountains. Today, VOAC’s “Camp POSTCARD” program is a free week-long camp designed to benefit deserving 11- and 12-year-olds from the city and county of Denver. Young campers at Camp POSTCARD establish positive bonds with their adult counselors—who, at the end of the week, are revealed to be law enforcement officials, criminal justice professionals, and emergency personnel. This is an outdoor dream come true for many of these youth, and the experience provides a safe environment in which campers can share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas while learning the importance of self-respect and respect for others, teamwork, self-control, and dignity.
This special anniversary humbles and reignites the original mission of Volunteers of America Colorado: to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable individuals and families in the communities it serves. Looking to the future, VOA will continue to build on 125 years of compassionate service and pave the way for the next 125 years to come.
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