OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

November 14, 2002

Mandatory Voluntarism?

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by Robert C. Baldwin

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


Bob Baldwin was born and raised in Connecticut. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1951 with a degree in English. He later (1969) graduated from American University in Washington D. C. with a degree in History.

Bob served a 30 year career in the Air Force from 1951 to 1981, following which he served as Executive Director of what was then the United Way of the Redlands Area. Since retiring from the United Way in 1992, he has taught as an adjunct instructor in the University of Redlands’ adult education program.

Bob joined the Fortnightly Club in 1986 and has presented papers on different subjects, the most recent of which have been on the subject of voluntarism. Today’s paper explores the subject further in the light of President Bush’s call for all Americans to devote 4000 hours of voluntary service to their communities during their lifetimes.


Recognizing the importance of an active citizenry to the strength of our democracy, President Bush, in his State of the Union address last January, called upon all Americans to devote at least two years of their lives to serving their communities and their fellow citizens.

Is this a prelude to mandatory voluntarism?

Volunteering as a form of community service has a long and honorable tradition. Over the years, voluntarism has been a mighty force in the uplifting of humanity, and nowhere else has the concept been so warmly embraced or so effectively employed as here in the United States. Americans of every category are contributing their time, treasure and talent to assist others in an incredible variety of ways. However, the anticipated population growth on the next few decades promises a significant growth in the number of people in need.

President Bush’s initiative is to encourage (not require) all Americans to become involved in service to others at home and abroad because, as he puts it, "Americans have so much to give." However, community service needs to be focused on specific human needs. Humanitarian organizations here and abroad provide a well-developed system for doing so. Since September 11th, there has been an upsurge in number of Americans volunteering for service with such organizations, especially young people. Conscription of volunteers may not yet be required.

Considering the many troubling circumstances that face the people of the world today, helping others at home and abroad is not only admirable, but essential. Voluntary service to others is, after all, not only an uplifting experience, but also an enlightened act of self interest.



In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Bush noted what he called the outpouring of civic pride prompted by the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Recognizing the importance of an active citizenry to the strength of our democracy, the President called upon all Americans to devote at least two years of their lives to serving their communities and their fellow citizens, because, as he put it, "every American has something to give." Is he talking to me? Is he talking to you?

My previous Fortnightly papers have sought to define voluntarism as a major force in the solving of human problems. I’m afraid that I have used the terms charity, philanthropy and humanitarianism more or less interchangeably but, to me, those terms, in that order, reflect the progression of the noble human tradition of helping the less fortunate from the one-on-one charity of the Good Samaritan, through the enrichment of entire communities and institutions by the philanthropy of wealthy individuals, to the humanitarian work of transnational organizations like Doctors Without Borders, CARE, The International Red Cross and Red Crescent, the World Health Organization, Oxfam, Rotary International and others. In this century, our government has become an important participant in human care programs, but the basic human willingness to help others may be seen as the engine that ensures the progress of humanity. But--must voluntarism become mandatory?

Historical background

The idea of people helping other people is as old as mankind itself. One researcher has concluded that altruism and other forms of social bonding fit comfortably into our theories of survival of the fittest, and that the chances of human survival may have been improved by cooperative efforts such as group hunting (Luks, 1992, pp. 54-55). Religious organizations have long promoted service to others as a part of their basic values. "Charity never faileth" the Bible tells us. The idea that good works here on earth promise other-worldly rewards, as well as a better life in this one, has led charity-minded individuals to come together in religious orders and other faith-based groups, such as the Quaker movement, the Salvation Army, the YMCA and YWCA, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, for the purpose of uplifting society. De Tocqueville’s famous observation, in 1830, that Americans form voluntary associations "of a thousand different types . . . (from the] immensely large . . . [to the] very minute" whenever they want to solve a problem or to set a great example, has certainly proven true in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Voluntary organizations that assist the needy and promote the common good have proliferated in our country, and the number of non profit, tax exempt, public service organizations registered with the IRS increased from about 250,000 to about one and a half million in just the last two decades. Such organizations are required by law to be committed to the public good in order to preserve their tax-exempt status, and include the ‘immensely large" and well-endowed foundations that disperse the wealth of philanthropists such as Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller and Gates as well as the "very minute" smaller groups that serve highly specialized clientele such as battered women, people with drug and alcohol problems, and summer camps for inner city kids. Some of you may want to know more about a group that meets weekly in Colton to provide information and support for those "with suspected or confirmed extraterrestrial abductions." Another organization meets here in Redlands to help those with "sex and love addictions." (If you want some action on this, call Mimi at 796-1146.)

If voluntarism has contributed significantly to the well being of society in the past, should community service be a mandatory requirement of modern society? In recent years tax supported government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Welfare have played an increasingly important role in support of the needy who are sick, elderly, or young. President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression through which millions of young Americans served terms of 6 to 18 months to help restore the nation’s parks, revitalize the economy, and support their families and themselves. The World War II G. I. Bill provided educational benefits to millions of veterans in return for their required wartime service. To many, these are normal functions of a democratic society, and I think most of us believe that these tax-supported government programs have truly benefited society as well as the individuals. However, to some taxpayers, this is an arbitrary and inappropriate sharing of wealth. The Ayn Rand Institute, for example, objected to President Clinton’s proposal to employ young people in public service work in return for college tuition, calling such paid-for community service "the enemy of true benevolence", and quoting Ms. Rand (1905-1982), a champion of individualism, as saying "Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights" ( Similarly, recent legislation to reform Welfare, and President Bush’s program to reduce taxes reflect the opinion of many that government funded programs create a dependent underclass rather than uplift the disadvantaged.

Nevertheless, community service is becoming an increasingly important part of modern life. Many colleges and universities are making it a mandatory graduation requirement. At the same time, it has become clear to high school graduates and job seekers that a record of volunteer work adds punch to their college applications and job resumes. Universal military service has been a requirement of many countries as a part of their concept of self defense and the development of individual responsibilities. For example, in this country, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) is a program to prepare young people for leadership roles in the military services in the event of war, and was a mandatory requirement for graduation in land grant state universities until recently. Some, including Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, and Robert Litan of the Brookings Institute, have suggested young people should be required to perform a year of community service between high school and college, with participants being given the choice of service in the military, the Peace Corps or urban renewal programs, followed by a reward of tuition money for further education upon completion of their service. Conservative writer David Brooks is said to be in favor of military-related national service because "Today’s [pampered] children . . . would suddenly face drill sergeants reminding them that they are nothing without the group" (as quoted in an Ayn Rand Institute editorial dated 30 January 2002).

Should community service—that is, the uplifting of society by helping others—be required? Or, for that matter, does sharing the time, treasure and talent of the well off with the young, the sick, and the elderly really have tangible benefits for society? I am reminded of the Peter Arno cartoon in the New Yorker magazine, some time ago, showing a young Boy Scout on a street corner in New York City, eager to do his good turn for the day, taking the hand of an elderly woman who is clutching a lamppost with her other hand saying, "But, dammit, I don’t want to cross the street!"

Modern Humanitarianism

While community service is, of course, not yet mandatory, the President has created a new organization, the USA Freedom Corps, to implement and provide structure to his proposal that all Americans perform 4000 hours of voluntary service during their lifetimes. To be effective, the benevolent energy of volunteers must be directed toward meeting specific human needs. Making this connection is, to me, clearly the role of the many charitable non profit organizations our country is famous for, and the President’s plan won’t work without them. "Random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" are commendable, but community service needs focus.

President Bush’s program builds upon existing government-sponsored programs such as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), The Youth Conservation Corps, the Points of Light Foundation, and the Peace Corps, and seeks also to connect volunteers with existing community based agencies such as the Campfire Boys and Girls, the American Red Cross, literacy programs, museums, libraries, emergency response teams and police departments, as well as faith-based organizations. Emphasis on homeland security is the foundation of his plan, and the President has called upon Americans to fight the war on terrorism by serving others in their communities. However, by including the Peace Corps, the plan also anticipates broadening the reach of the American voluntary spirit to other countries as well. For example, the Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity recently signed an agreement that connects Peace Corps volunteers with Habitat for Humanity International projects . . . in the construction of houses throughout the developing world. September 11th and the realities of the 21st century make it clear that, while charity may begin at home, voluntary service to others abroad is increasingly important.

The Freedom Corps is a coordinating council, chaired by the President, which oversees new and existing federal human service programs including:

the Senior Corps, which has mobilized nearly half a million Americans aged 55 and over to help solve local problems;

the AmeriCorps, which is a network of national service programs that engage U. S. citizens, aged 17 and older to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health and environment here at home;

the Citizen Corps, which is intended to implement a range of new initiatives to engage ordinary Americans in specific homeland security and emergency response efforts in their own communities; and

the Peace Corps, whose more than 165,000 volunteers have worked in 130 foreign countries since 1961 in such fields as education, health and HIV/AIDS, information technology, housing, business development, the environment and agriculture;

Included also in the President’s plan is a program entitled "Volunteer-Match" on the Freedom Corps web page that matches individual volunteers with community service opportunities in more than 50,000 charitable organizations around the country by zip code. According to the program managers, referrals of interested volunteers to local agencies have increased by more than 70 percent in the past year.

Perhaps the most important part of the President’s plan is the emphasis it places on the idea that the voluntary spirit should be encouraged among the young. An important component of the Freedom Corps is The Learn and Serve America program that seeks to foster a culture of service, citizenship and responsibility in our schools. It supports service learning initiatives in schools and community organizations that combine service to the community with student learning in a way that improves both the student and the community. Service learning is designed to be a part of the academic curriculum and is intended to help young people develop practical skills, self esteem and a sense of civic responsibility. Some of the student projects include developing community gardens, starting school recycling programs, collecting food for the homeless, teaching younger children to read, testing the local water quality, preserving native plants, and many others. Here in Redlands, the students at Bryn Mawr Elementary School conducted a shoe drive and collected 2120 pairs of children’s shoes for needy families in the United States and abroad. Redlands High School has organized annual food drives for Family Service Association, and Redlands East Valley High School has furnished volunteers for the annual Bike Classic. A recent survey conducted in OHS and RHS by the Redlands Rotary Club asked students if they would be interested in community service opportunities "to help the less fortunate." 24 of 29 respondents indicated that they would be. In Alaska a team of seven high school girls, who call themselves "The Dragon Slayers," have completed 200 hours of medical and fire-safety training each, and, using snowmobiles, four wheel drive vehicles and, in the warmer weather, boats, provide the only round-the-clock emergency medical care available to 3000 people in 14 villages in an area about the size of Maryland (HANDOUT). It may be interesting to note also that today’s all-volunteer military is better educated, better trained, and better at what they do that the draftees of Vietnam.

Paul Little may have hit the nail on the head in his December 2000 Fortnightly presentation when he described Gen Y’ers--those born in the late 80s and the 1990s, and sometimes referred to as Millennials—as having a "strong sense of community . . . not just in smaller units, but a feeling of connectedness to a larger unit of society . . . moving rapidly to global consciousness." Paul quoted one consultant as saying "think of them as the quiet little group that is about to change everything." Ruben Navarette writing in the Dallas Morning News reports that "many Millennials "are aching to accomplish something with their lives and make the world a better place." A new book calls the Millennials "The Next Great Generation" (Howe & Strauss, 2002).

To further capitalize on this enthusiasm, the Learn and Serve America program has developed a guidebook entitled "Students in Service to America," designed for teachers, which focuses on ways to teach young people the importance of service to our nation. In addition, the Learn and Service program provides $43 million in grants each year to schools, colleges, and community organizations such as Rotary clubs and Kiwanis key clubs to support the local programs that are now engaging an estimated 1.5 million students in service to their communities. These non profit organizations are getting some much needed free help, while the teens and young adults are receiving training and job skills. Nancy Sjoholm, the studio director at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in Upland , says that student volunteers "brighten the whole place up . . . They’re very efficient, willing, they’re quick learners . . . They make people smile" (PE, 9/22/02, p. E1).

At the college level, the concept of student involvement in community service has been around for quite a while. In the mid-80s, the media portrayed college students as materialistic and self-absorbed, more interested in making money than in helping their neighbors. To prove this image wrong, the Presidents of Brown, Georgetown and Stanford universities founded Campus Compact in 1985. The founding Presidents noted that many students on their campuses were already involved in community service and believed that many others would follow suit with proper encouragement and supportive structures. The Campus Compact is now a national coalition of 850 colleges and universities, including the University of Redlands and all of the California state colleges and universities, that is committed to the civic purposes of higher education by "developing students’ citizenship skills and values, encouraging partnerships between campuses and communities, and assisting faculty . . . to integrate public and community engagement into their teaching and research" (http::// The University of Redlands has graduated more than 6,000 students who have completed the required 80 hours of community service in an amazing variety of ways since the inception of the program in 1989 (HANDOUTS). Tony Mueller, director of the Office of Community Service Learning at the University of Redlands, reports that most of the students in the program believe that volunteer work has made a difference in their own lives, and that over 90% of the students who had already completed the 80-hour requirement volunteered for further community service opportunities during their senior year.

The President’s program appears to be off to a grand start. Since his address in January more than 66,000 people have requested Peace Corps applications, applications for the AmeriCorps are up nearly 90 percent, more than 48,000 have signed up for Citizen Corps programs, and visits to the Senior Corps web site are up by almost 60 Percent. Most of these programs involve connecting volunteers with existing nonprofit agencies such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Clubs as well as faith-based and other community organizations. The AARP web site ( lists eighteen reasons why people of all ages should volunteer and how doing so can improve a volunteer’s own life. Included are the importance of retired people staying active, the usefulness to out-of-work people of learning new skills, and the satisfaction of giving back to others the same blessings that one has received.

The President’s support for voluntary service to humanity is a welcome addition to an already vibrant part of American life. However, one has to wonder if the President’s program isn’t intended to replace government-funded programs with government-organized programs at local expense. Local non profit organizations will be called upon to provide programs to focus the expected surge of voluntary energy on community needs. This requires training, facilities, supplies, equipment, and oversight. These cost money. Many local non profit organizations have built their most important programs, such as after-school and literacy programs for "at risk" kids, on the flow of federal, state and county money such as Community Development Block Grants and Juvenile Justice grants. Now, as Larry Burgess pointed out to us at our last meeting, tax-cuts, a deteriorating national economy, increased defense spending, and disappearing budget surpluses make reductions in government funding inevitable. Community based organizations will be particularly vulnerable, especially if federal support for their programs is delegated to state and local communities as unfunded commitments, a favorite trick of higher government levels. That will undoubtedly affect the ability of community-based organizations to mobilize and employ community volunteers, however many and however enthusiastic they may be.

Facing the Future

Perhaps the most frightening problem the future has to offer us is not terrorism, earthquakes, or AIDs, but population growth. Recently, our local United Way has announced its intention to conduct a new survey of the human care needs in our community. It may turn out that there are few new needs; only more needy people.

The world’s population is expected to double from 6 to 12 billion—take or leave a billion or two--by 2050. This growth will take place mainly in underdeveloped countries. The Rotarian magazine (February 2000) explains that "Population growth, when accompanied by increased agricultural production and adequate education for all, can be an important element of a prosperous society, providing a strong labor force to help drive the economy. [But,] where population growth exceeds the capacity of the economy to absorb and integrate the population, the result is . . . a downward spiral of [joblessness,] increasing poverty, insufficient resources, urban violence, and environmental degradation" (pp. 34-35). It may be comforting for us to pretend that population growth is a problem only for Middle Eastern, African and South American nations, but to say that such problems don’t exist in our own back yard is wishful thinking.

California population is expected to increase 50% by 2025, but even more important are the changes in the makeup of that population and the problems these changes create. There will be more immigrants, legal and illegal, with less education, language problems, inadequate work skills, and a greater need for education, medical care, job training, cultural blending, etc. There is a growing number of children living in poverty and also a growing number of elderly who have special needs. Population growth will worsen already severe environmental problems including shortages of water, clean air, transportation congestion, etc., and more people will mean more health epidemics such as AIDS, the intractable problems of drug resistant bacteria, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Contemplating our burgeoning population makes one think of King Canute who, to demonstrate the enormity of his power, commanded the tide to stop coming in. Most of us think of him as rather silly for doing that, but history records him as being a wise and effective king who ruled over England, Denmark and Norway until his death in 1035. Perhaps he was familiar with the tide tables for his region, and made his commandment just as the tide was turning. If so, his less well-informed followers would surely have been impressed. Oh, if only we had a well-informed ruler who could reverse the tide of incoming humanity. In the absence of such a person, we must work to ensure that all human boats rise with the incoming population tide or we’re in deep doo-doo, and we need to be concerned with the problems population growth poses for the rest of the world as well as for our own communities. For our own well-being, we must help them develop peacefully and productively. Charity does begin at home, but doing so sets a good example for others abroad.

Human nature has always been a balance between "good news" and "bad news." Humans are compassionate but cruel; creative but conflicted; peace-loving but warlike; open to change but tied to tradition, generous but greedy; etc. You can probably think of a dozen other contrasts to describe human behavior. Is humanity taking one step forward and two steps backward or two steps forward and one step backward? Francis Fukyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) offeres the idea that history has an end point, and that the end point is the realization of human freedom under the rule of law. So far, Fuykyama argues, American values and institutions provide the best example of how humanity might achieve its highest potential. Can they be exported? Peacefully? As one Austrian theologian put it, back in 1969, "The compulsion to do good is an innate American trait. . . . Ultimately this attitude leads to bombing people into [the] acceptance of [their] gifts" (Illich, 1969). On the other hand, Thomas Friedman writing for the New York Times, says that while European and other nations scoff at America’s nave idealism and preoccupation with human rights, deep down they envy that idealism and our optimism and hope that we will never give it up. Otherwise we, like they, may succumb to the pessimism that has arisen out of all the wars and atrocities that have occurred in their world (PE, 11/12/02, p. A8)

As you may conclude, I hold an optimistic view of the future. But it takes work. As Winston Churchill once said, "I am an optimist. What’s the use of being anything else?" I want to believe that the forces of good—the compassionate and creative characteristics of humanity—will overcome the forces of evil—the greedy, conflicted and warlike qualities—as population growth puts the survival of civilization to the test. But how can optimism triumph over such formidable opposition? In the angry, poverty stricken, pre-modern societies around the world, American democratic principles—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the rule of law—must be seen as compatible with their own legitimate aspirations. Such principles can be exported. Not by force, but by example. Not by armies, but by international humanitarian organizations of which American volunteers and philanthropists can be the leading force.

Bhichai Rattakul, President of Rotary International, argues that "an organization like Rotary, which has no hidden agenda, can accomplish more than a government in building world peace and goodwill." Rotary’s international exchange of students and businesspeople and its program of training World Peace Scholars are good examples. It’s successful program to eradicate Polio is another. Voluntary organizations, together with government and business, can accomplish the global advancement of humanity in ways that government and business cannot by themselves. Another example: in 1997, 12 women who were born in Pakistan but had lived in the United States for many years, established a literacy program for girls in their native land. Raising most of the needed money from friends and family, as well as contributions from the Levi Strauss Foundation and NetAid, a New York based non profit organization, the group has opened 151 schools for girls and more than 10,000 Pakistani girls have been enrolled in their programs in a country that is usually hostile to education of any kind for females (LA Times, 10/27/02, p. B2). This is an example of the "giving back" that Americans have been famous for for many generations. One of the group’s founding mothers, Ali, who lives in the L. A. area, plans to take her own children to Pakistan next summer so that they can see what they have gained by being raised in the U. S. "With all the events that are happening in the world, you feel every little bit you can contribute is worth it," she says. "I have lived here [in the U. S.] so long," she adds, "I can’t imagine. What if I had been [raised] back there?" Another example of giving back is the matter of American physicians of Afghan descent returning to Afghanistan to help rebuild its medical training and delivery systems. Humanitarian behavior of this kind in an overcrowded world is not only admirable, but essential. If we are to survive comfortably, others must also. If we are to export American values, they must be seen to work in this country, and serve as an example to other countries.

"Hard Power" versus "Soft Power"

Some of you may be familiar with a new book entitled "The Paradox of American Power (2002) by Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and Assistant Secretary of Defense. Nye’s thesis is that the U. S. today has unequalled military and economic power that he calls "hard power," which can be used to induce others to behave as we think they should, but that we should balance this hard power with what he calls "soft power"—private, non government organizations such as businesses, environmental groups, and humanitarian organizations, as well as the influence of our institutions, our values and culture, including Hollywood, the Internet, and the information revolution--that can be used to co-opt others rather than coerce them. "Soft power," according to Nye, "is more than persuasion . . . It is the ability to entice and attract. And attraction often leads to acquiescence or imitation" (p. 9).

We still need a strong military to protect our interests, of course, but one that is used in concert with other like-minded nations, and with nation-building and community development programs that help to lessen international tensions and work toward a world of democratic institutions. The world is full of terrorists and rogue regimes dedicated to our destruction. However, unilateralism is not a good way to approach solving the world’s problems. Rather, Nye points out, our overwhelming military and economic power must be used in concert with our soft power. We should recognize the values of other cultures and work to help them help themselves to achieve the goals of a peaceful humanity. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous  saying about big sticks and soft talking is still appropriate.


Voluntarism is an essential ingredient in the struggle to save humanity. President Bush’s program to encourage all Americans to become involved in service to their communities is most welcome. His program builds on an already well-developed system of non profit organizations and volunteer initiatives in this country that have benefited millions of Americans in the past, and will improve our communities for future generations. Dean Nye mentions a 2001 poll which reported that 111 million Americans had volunteered to help solve problems in their communities in the previous 12 months, and that 60 million Americans volunteered on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the spirit of voluntarism needs to be continuously strengthened and broadened so that, together with government and business, it can reach more people at home and abroad. The President’s initiative will help, but conscription of volunteers isn’t needed just yet.

The American tradition of helping others to help themselves, and the American values of individual freedom under the rule of law can be the basis of building a just and self sufficient world society. Not under the banner of one nation or another, or one religion or another, but under the banner of humanity. However, the efforts of individual volunteers have to be focused and channeled toward the solution of specific human problems. Non profit organizations are uniquely well organized to do this and will continue to do so, but inevitable reductions in government grants will have to be matched by contributions of local philanthropists as well as the "sweat equity" of many others, including our young people, if our domestic and international programs are to continue.

Humanitarianism is, after all, an enlightened form of self-interest. It has a proud tradition that needs to be carried forward into the new century. Sharing this tradition with our youngsters and other nations helps to ensure our own survival. If we fail to do so, and population growth overwhelms our humanitarian spirit, we may find that Pogo, the famous cartoon philosopher, was right when he said "we have met the enemy, and he is us."


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DiMassa, Cara Mia. (2002, October 27). "Helping Their Homeland, One Girl at a Time." Los Angeles Times, p. B2.

Epstein, Alex. "Bush’s Un-American and Immoral Call for ‘National Service.’ The Ayn Rand Institute Media Link. (Jan. 2002). Retrieved 8, November 2002.

"Fitting Sports Into a Whole." Editorial. Los Angeles Times 20 October 2002: M4.

Fukuyama, F. The End of History and the Last Man. (1992). New York: The Free Press.

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The Rotarian. Rotary International. February 2000 (pp. 34-35), October 2002, and November 2002.

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