Volunteers of America celebrates 125 years, 45 years in MontroseOct 25, 2021 02:24PM ● By Erin Berge
Volunteers of America’s (VOA) local legacy began 45 years ago when the organization purchased a nursing home in Montrose. Since then, the faith-based non-profit has sought to grow a network of health care services in western Colorado. This year marks the 125th anniversary of an organization whose impact and scope is larger than many local residents know.
God’s American Volunteers
Ballington & Maud Booth
VOA was founded in 1896 by Christian social reformers Ballington and Maud Booth. Ballington was the son of General William Booth, who founded The Salvation Army.
The Booths moved from England to New York in the 1890s to assume command of The Salvation Army forces in the U.S. The couple was successful in bolstering the image of The Salvation Army in America and in growing the movement’s social work mission. After disagreements with other Salvation Army leaders, the Booths left the organization and established God’s American Volunteers, which was soon changed to Volunteers of America.
The Booths envisioned a movement dedicated to “reaching and uplifting” the American people. They pledged to “go wherever we are needed, and do whatever comes to hand.” That declaration has guided VOA’s outreach efforts ever since.
While the top priority was spiritual, the first line of action was practical. In the early 1900s, volunteers lived in tenement houses, serving the poor and setting up day nurseries where needed.
With a large base of volunteers, the organization began an expansive philanthropic mission, which included summer camps for city children, housing for working men and women, prisoner transitional services, free hospitals for the poor, employment bureaus, co-operative stores, medical dispensaries, distribution of clothes, free Thanksgiving meals and reading rooms.
During the Great Depression, VOA mobilized to assist millions of people who were unemployed, hungry and homeless. Relief efforts included employment bureaus, wood yards, soup kitchens and “Penny Pantries” where food items cost one cent.
By the 1960s, VOA was well known for its thrift stores and annual fundraisers like the “Sidewalk Santa” campaign in New York City. Following the establishment of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, VOA began to focus on housing for the poor. Today, VOA is one of the nation’s largest non-profit providers of quality, affordable housing.
In the 1970s, the organization emerged as a major provider of professional long-term nursing care. VOA owns and operates nursing facilities and assisted and independent living residences in eight states, as well as the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) in three states.
VOA helps almost 2 million people in more than 400 communities. Since its beginning, the ministry of service has supported and empowered America’s most vulnerable groups, including veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, at-risk and homeless individuals and families, individuals returning from prison, those recovering from addictions and many others.
Despite the name, the organization is not purely volunteer-driven. Across the county, VOA has approximately 16,000 paid, professional employees dedicated to helping those in need.
It is also the fourth largest employer in Montrose County.
In western Colorado, through a network of 12 health care and affordable housing programs, VOA annually serves approximately 1,200 long-term care and short-term rehabilitation clients. This includes 50 units of housing in independent and assisted living, 160 home health patients, 147 home-bound and 220 congregate meals clients, and over 300 PACE program participants. Additionally, VOA provides 171 units of affordable housing for the elderly and those with disabilities.
In partnership with the Area Agency on Aging and Aging and Disabilities Resources for Colorado, VOA provides options counseling to 2,069 clients requesting in-home support services. Local programs under VOA management include Home Health of Western Colorado, Senior CommUnity Care, Senior CommUnity Meals, The Homestead at Montrose, Valley Manor Care Center, Horizons Care Center and AdvantAge Health Resource Center.
The organization employs nurses, home health aides, certified nursing assistants, physical, occupational and speech therapists, dietitians, social workers, therapeutic recreation specialists, care navigators, ministers and more. Volunteers of America has been honored each year as a “Great Place to Work” since 2019. Comments from the annual survey reflect the overall culture of the organization: “My work has special meaning” and “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.”