The New Volunteerism

Is America poised for a surge in good works?


Feed the hungry, teach the illiterate, transport the elderly, staff the museums - the quintessentially American willingness to lend a hand is demonstrated annually by 93 million volunteers. Giving of oneself has long been a way to build civic-mindedness and learn about the world beyond one's back yard. But in the current climate of shrinking government, volunteerism is emerging as more than just a conscience-comforting avocation. Lawmakers are counting on a new burst of commitment to offset pending cuts in social service, education and community development programs. But what is the proper role for government in promoting volunteerism? Conservatives are wary of too much bureaucracy and a “politicized” agenda. Liberals see government as a necessary catalyst that plugs holes in the social safety net.

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