Volunteers of America is a non-profit human services organization committed to serving people in need, strengthening families, and building communities.
Volunteers of America was founded in 1896 on a core belief in the potential of every person no matter the circumstance. Since then, we have been transforming the lives of America’s most vulnerable, including children and families from under–served communities, at–risk youth, Veterans, individuals and families struggling with homelessness, men and women returning from prison, victims of human trafficking, and people challenged with addictions and substance use.
We help all people realize their full potential through relevant programs and services that have an impact that is deep, resulting in a change in the way they see themselves and the world; broad, extending beyond individuals to their families and communities; and long-lasting, outlasting the time spent with us. Our programs receive continual improvements resulting from ongoing evaluations.
At Volunteers of America Los Angeles (VOALA), we see the potential in all people to rewrite the story they are living and build skills that will allow them to face challenges with positivity and resilience. Although the people we serve face extreme obstacles and have doubts about their future and the ability to improve it, they all have exceptional strength and potential. It’s our job to make sure that potential is realized.
In VOALA programs people learn that they are the authors of their own stories and able to make positive choices that move them toward an empowered future. Every day, we combine deep compassion, highly effective programs, and an unshakable belief in each person’s innate health and strength, to achieve what many consider “impossible.”
Our commitment to bring lasting solutions has led us to embrace a health – rather than illness – model in all of our services. While the people we serve certainly face challenges of poverty and other obstacles, we do not regard them in any way as ill, disabled, or damaged. A major influencer of this perspective is the Jesuit theologian/scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. One of Teilhard’s sayings is “The whole of life lies in the verb ‘seeing’.” What he meant by this is that authentic reality is something beyond our senses and thinking, what in theological terms he calls ‘the body of Christ’ and in scientific terms he calls ‘consciousness’. He means all people are one, without separation, in this profound spiritual reality and, therefore, all people regardless of their station in life enjoy the same measure of innate spiritual health. He also means that we see ourselves in every other person and we are drawn to that person with curiosity and compassion.
How does VOALA translate this into practical and accessible terms for its staff and the people they work with? The approach is called Storywork which is a unique creation of the organization. Storywork simply asserts that negative emotions which we all struggle with are the products of the retelling of stories we have learned about ourselves which have become so habitual we are not even aware of their telling. On the contrary, we are all born with the capacity for a healthy, positive and constructive outlook. This innate capacity for common sense, mature judgment and wisdom is always available. It emerges from within, akin to Teilhard’s ‘seeing’, as a much better alternative to viewing life than looking through, and being wedded to, the ‘filters’ of stories learned via upbringing, culture, environment or other sources of conditioning.
I am grateful for your support of our efforts as we continue to serve those that are in need. It is in giving to something greater than ourselves, we ﬁnd the greatness in ourselves.
President, Volunteers of America Los Angeles
Oportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.
Ballington and Maud were social reformers who had a deep understanding of philanthropy and the desire to serve. They pledged to “go wherever we are needed, and do whatever comes to hand.” With this as their guiding principal, on March 18, 1896 in New York City, they announced the birth of a new organization dedicated to serving the spiritual and material needs of the poor and disadvantaged: Volunteers of America. Later that same year they opened a Mission Hall and a home for orphaned children in Downtown Los Angeles.
In turn-of-the-century America, there was no shortage of work to do. The Volunteers moved into tenement districts to care for people in poverty. They organized day nurseries and summer camps, provided housing for single men and women. Maud Booth, became known as the “Little Mother of the Prisons”. She recognized the value of providing social skills and acclimation courses in order to avoid recidivism. Maud’s commitment to improve parole procedures and the conditions of prisons, and to incorporate social skills development was instrumental in changing the entire U.S. prison system. Maud also established the first halfway houses, known as Hope Halls, which helped former convicts readjust to society in a safe, supportive environment.
The Great Depression of the 1930s stretched the nation’s private social welfare system almost to the breaking point. Volunteers of America mobilized to assist the millions of people who were unemployed, hungry and homeless. Relief efforts included employment bureaus, wood yards, soup kitchens and “Penny Pantries” where every food item cost one cent.
In Los Angeles, other charities sought out Volunteers of America to take over their programs, resulting in the acquisition of a Women’s Home, a Men’s Home, a Reading Room at Fifth and Crocker, and several other properties throughout Los Angeles County.
Volunteers of America served proudly on the home front during both world wars. The group operated canteens, overnight lodging and Sunday breakfasts for soldiers and sailors on leave. Affordable housing and child care were provided for defense industry workers. Further, Volunteers of America spearheaded community salvage drives during World War II, collecting millions of pounds of scrap metal, rubber and fiber for the war effort.
Volunteers of America had evolved from being an evangelical mission to that of being a well-established human services agency with programs designed to enhance the ability of individuals to return to independent, self-sufficient lives in their community.
In 1957, Volunteers of America initiated their professional research and treatment of alcoholism. A three-year project funded by the federal government demonstrated that Skid Row alcoholics could be successfully treated.
By 1958, a fleet of vans was added to the Men’s Industrial Program and the Men’s Rehabilitation Center.
Our special mission in housing dates to our organization’s founding. Volunteers of America helped accelerate real estate development during the 1960s by taking part in numerous federal housing programs. Since 1968, Volunteers of America developed over 300 affordable housing complexes in more than 30 states.
A Parent Child Center in Harbor City was opened in 1968.
With the help of a community fund drive in 1970, Volunteers of America purchased a 500 unit apartment complex in North Hollywood and built the Maud Booth Family Center for childcare and family services.
In 1971, Volunteers of America became the first non-profit organization funded for the Federal government’s Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound programs. With continued focus on serving youth from risk-filled environments, Positive Alternatives Program was started, providing drug abuse prevention and education for children in schools and community centers.
A Senior Nutrition Program was started in Long Beach in 1973, providing meals to the homebound and congregate meals at ten sites for low-income elderly. VOALA would become one of the largest providers of home-delivered meals in Los Angeles?
With the help of actress Jan Clayton, the VOALA Jan Clayton Center for alcohol and drug addiction recovery was opened in 1978.
In 1982, Ballington Plaza Apartments provide an oasis for the frail elderly and handicapped residents of Skid Row.
The Transitional Recovery Program began in 1983, providing residential supervision, vocational counseling and job placement referrals to young men and women preceding their release to the community on parole status.
We opened our first Head Start programs in the San Fernando Valley, serving over 700 children. Gradually growing throughout the next ten years to 4000 children and over 50 facilities throughout the Los County area.
The Upward Bound Program expanded from three schools to eight schools serving over 300 students.
A program to provide companion pet care to low-income seniors began in 1995 as part of the Senior Nutrition program.
By merging with the Huntington Youth Center in 1996, Volunteers of America provides shelter to runaway and homeless children in Huntington Beach.
1996 marked our centennial and a hundred years of service in Los Angeles.
As the years went by, Volunteers of America evolved from being an evangelical mission to a well-established human services agency. Our services continue to evolve with the changing times, however we still retain the essence of Maud and Ballington’s mission. VOALA continues to this day as a faith-based organization with a broad scope of support and services for all regardless of race, gender, age or religious preference.
Now in our second century of service, Volunteers of America is one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive human services organizations, touching the lives of more than 2 million people each year in hundreds of communities across the United States.
California State Preschool
City of Los Angeles
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority
US Department of Agriculture
US Department of Education
US Department of Justice
US Department of Labor
US Department of Veterans Affairs
US Department of Health and Human Services
- Administration for Children and Families
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
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Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.