In Focus

The virtues of volunteerism

At the height of Victorian England’s volunteer movement in 1878, William Booth dictated a letter to George Scott Railton, his secretary. When Booth said, “We are a volunteer army,” Bramwell, Booth’s son, responded, “Volunteer? I’m no volunteer, I’m a regular!” William Booth then instructed Railton to delete the word volunteer and substitute it with the word salvation. Thus, “The Salvation Army” name was born.

Today, the Army’s “regulars” are called “officers” (pastors). They wear iconic blue uniforms with star–studded epaulettes on their shoulders.

Army behind the Army

However, behind every officer are faithful, hardworking volunteers. Often referred to as “The Army Behind the Army,” volunteers play a crucial role in the Army’s ability to provide quality social services for entire communities.

Volunteers are valuable assets in the Army’s effort to meet the world’s changing needs. Through their skills and experience, they make significant contributions by positively influencing lives. Such volunteers uplift families and communities.

One of the Army’s most memorable volunteer movements occurred in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They came from far and wide and lined up by the hundreds, seeking an opportunity to put their time, energy, and resources toward rebuilding the American morale and spirit.

The following examples illustrate how, for many of these volunteers, their patriotism proved life–changing.

Changed lives

During a dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in Lower Manhattan, images flashed on a massive screen in a great subterranean hall showing men and women at work at Ground Zero’s “Taj Mahal” (the Salvation Army tent so named by the workers).

Also pictured were Army volunteers, writing prayers on battered beams of steel, counseling survivors, offering water, sandwiches, coffee, and words of comfort. Bright red Salvation Army shields affixed to white windbreaker jackets and construction worker hardhats clearly distinguished them.

Just a few days prior to the actual dedication ceremony, hundreds of Salvation Army volunteers previewed the museum in response to a letter of invitation extended to them by the Museum Foundation via the Greater New York Division.

Kelly–Jane Cotter from central New Jersey, reflected on her visit to the museum. “One of the artifacts I most appreciated seeing was the Ground Zero Cross,” she wrote in myCentraljersey.com, “which I vividly remembered from my time as a volunteer with The Salvation Army. Yet while visiting the museum, I walked right past the 17–foot crossbeam. My mind was reeling, my eyes were filled with tears, and I simply couldn’t see it until I noticed some firefighters aiming their cameras upward.”

Tanya Hoggard, a Cincinnati–based flight attendant, had rearranged her schedule to volunteer with The Salvation Army. She came to realize that children from around the country wanted their messages of thanks and hope to reach the firefighters and rescue workers at Ground Zero.

Through friendships forged with firefighters who visited the Taj Mahal for coffee, conversation, and snacks, Hoggard learned that firehouses throughout New York City were receiving mail bags containing warm wishes from children—sometimes attached to stuffed animals, candy, murals, flags, and quilts. These expressions of love and gratitude proved overwhelming.

Hoggard thought, Why don’t I collect and safeguard these touching expressions? With permission, she archived the materials. Her resulting “Dear Hero Collection” is now on display at the museum.

For Sam Potter, Oklahoma’s disaster relief director, the preview day was an emotional one. He had spent a total of 39 days in Lower Manhattan, providing relief in the wake of the attacks. At that time, disaster relief chaplaincy was in its infancy and was yet to be organized nationally. However, the Oklahoma team carried with them the experiences of ministering to people devastated by the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

“I think the biggest thing about the museum is that it truly tells the whole story of what happened that 9/11,” Porter wrote for “theCatholicspirit.com,” an online newspaper.

Jennifer Adams–Webb volunteered in the aftermath of 9/11 for The Salvation Army. She had worked in World Trade Tower One for several years prior to the attack. Today, she is chief executive officer of the September 11th Families’ Association and co–founder of the 9/11 Tribute Center.

Jim Daly, another volunteer, had watched on TV and in horror as the World Trade Center’s twin towers fell.

This parishioner of St. John in Little Canada continues to reflect on time spent as a volunteer at Ground Zero in January 2002. His thoughts are expressed in articles written about him in publications and periodicals.

After answering the Army’s call for volunteers, Daly found himself at Ground Zero staring into “the pit,” a hole the size of a football field, where construction workers, police officers, and firefighters continued to unearth human remains four months after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

When asked by a reporter how the experience affected him, Daly paused for a moment, then said, “I have an appreciation for every day when I watch the sun come up. I think [the experience] probably just strengthened that.”

Thank you!

Recently, General André Cox paid tribute to the men and women who volunteer their service to help advance the Army’s mission around the world. In the aftermath of the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean, Mexico, and the southern United States last year, he acknowledged how volunteers were “quickly on the scene, distributing drinks and food as well as emotional and spiritual support.”

Commissioner Robert A. Watson, former national commander, wrote in his book Leadership Secrets of The Salvation Army: The Most Effective Organization in the U.S., “Volunteerism can be exhausting, emotional work. Yet, their conversations are not about how depressing the experience had been. Just the opposite. They talk about how their own lives had been changed for the better by the opportunity to help.” 

by Warren L. Maye

Previous post

Like mother, like daughter

Next post

Christianity In Action