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West Virginians have a long history of volunteerism, or providing their individual support to public and civic initiatives, from military service to emergency relief to community support. When General George Washington called for troops to fight British military forces in 1775, 100 volunteers formed the Berkeley County Riflemen to come to the aid of Boston. The present-day West Virginia National Guard traces its lineage to a volunteer militia formed in 1735.

Volunteers may work as an informally collaborative group on specific initiatives, or may function as part of an organized structure. Often throughout history, the former model has developed into the latter. Coal mining is historically the best-known, and perhaps the most dangerous, job in the Mountain State. From the late 1800s into the early 1900s, coal mine disasters brought out volunteers from the communities to help search for survivors. Following the 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, trained rescue teams were required at each mine site. Likewise, fire departments in the United States were either volunteer units or private companies until about the mid-1800s, when cities began creating municipal fire departments. Today, about 70% of firefighters nationwide are volunteers.

Primary and secondary schools require the assistance of parent volunteers to assist in non-teaching tasks, from chaperoning on field trips to organizing fundraisers. The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the nation. Literacy West Virginia is the main non-governmental organization working to improve literacy skills in the state. More than 1,000 volunteer tutors provide reading instruction to adult students in libraries, churches, and community centers. Community radio stations like WVMR in Pocahontas County and WTSQ in Kanawha County utilize volunteer disc jockeys and personnel. Fairs and festivals throughout the state use an army of volunteers each year to operate booths, take tickets, emcee stage performances, and help with animals and displays.

Many state and national organizations use volunteers at the local level to accomplish their missions. During the 1960s, the War on Poverty led to the creation of the Appalachian Volunteers, a government-funded community development organization. Through the AV, citizens worked to improve education and job opportunities, election fairness, and even black lung legislation. Environmental nonprofits such as the Nature Conservancy and Appalachian Trail Conservancy use volunteers to help protect delicate lands and maintain access for the public to enjoy outdoor activities and wilderness.

VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) workers first arrived in West Virginia in the mid-1960s, working on social, environmental, and economic issues in the hollows and coal camps of the state. While these organizers and workers left an enduring legacy in the state, in the 21st century the emphasis has turned to service over organizing. Now known as Americorps-VISTA, the program is administered by a state agency, Volunteer West Virginia, which promotes volunteerism in the Mountain State, assisting citizens in volunteering on a wide variety of projects. Volunteers may select projects based on location or demographics; for example, AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP allows retired adults to serve in their home communities. During the recent COVID pandemic, volunteers made masks and safety gear for children in foster homes, Boy Scouts packed notecard kits for messages to seniors in nursing homes, and AmeriCorps members collected food and served over 150,000 meals statewide.

Visit the Volunteer West Virginia website.

Last Revised on August 05, 2022

Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Volunteering." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 05 August 2022. Web. 28 May 2024.


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