UC Professor Creates Guidebook for Volunteers

Tuesday December 09, 2003

As the holidays approach, volunteer opportunities abound—part of a seasonal tradition. Unfortunately, after New Year’s rolls around, this burst of good will seems to get packed away with the decorations. 

But one gift just might ensure that the giving goes on. 

Arthur I. Blaustein’s revised and updated Make A Difference: America’s Guide to Volunteering and Community Service makes the perfect present for anyone interested in year-round volunteer opportunities, providing a comprehensive guide to well over a hundred organizations within a wide variety of interest areas. With a brief description of each organization and their volunteer opportunities and contact information, the book is a must-have for anyone whose commitment stretches beyond December. 

Blaustein, who teaches community development, social history and urban policy at UC Berkeley, knows his subject matter first-hand as a volunteer, program administrator and advocate for civil and community service programs. His many accomplishments include chairing President Jimmy Carter’s National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity, a John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service, his current appointment to the National Endowment for the Humanities, and his position as faculty advisor to the AmeriCorps program at Cal. 

His book is more just a list. In the introduction, Blaustein provides an analytical discussion of the values of volunteerism. For those of us who are drawn to volunteer, this section is especially important—offering both a clear explanation of why people want to help and a compelling argument about why it is more important than ever to re-establish our civil authority as citizens of a democracy through action such as volunteerism. 

“From Plato to the present, civic virtue has been the core of civilized behavior,” he writes. Civic participation, like volunteerism, helps us “enhance human dignity,” and “nourishes the moral intellect required for critical judgment and mature behavior.” 

In a society that is already based on quantitative values such as competition and privatism, he writes, civic participation offers the most direct way to re-establish those values that nourish a healthy society. 

I recognize this moral drought and am drawn to activism and volunteerism. Yet I couldn’t articulate why until I read Blaustein’s book. Like any theoretical work, Blaustein forced me to think about my reasons and interests, a good exercise for anyone interested in pursuing volunteerism seriously. 

As a further enticement to volunteerism, he includes a section called “Now More Than Ever,” analyzing why volunteerism and exercising one’s civil authority has become more important under the Bush administration. 

He argues that Bush and his administration have eroded our already narrow opportunities for civil participation—mouthing a supposed commitment to society while enacting policies that contradict their message, policies that are making it increasingly difficult for people to survive and drastically reducing their time to think about their moral and civil power. 

“A vital and healthy federal government is indispensable to the well-being and sovereignty of a self-governing people. That is, after all, what democracy is all about. Without this protection, whole segments of our society—especially those who can least afford it—will give up hope, will become more frustrated and alienated, and this can serve only to undermine the very social fabric of all our communities even more.” 

Nowhere in this chapter does Blaustein suggest that volunteerism is the cure for all our current social ills, but his argument is intriguing and motivating, especially for anyone worried about the current state of affairs under President Bush. 

For someone who initially looked at the book as a cheat sheet for volunteering, I was pleasantly surprised by Blaustein’s balance between theory and information. At a time when many of us, especially here in Berkeley, are actively pursuing exactly what Blaustein is giving us the tools to do, the book is an excellent addition to anyone’s collection.  

There’s also an added perk at the end. The last chapter, “Recommended Readings: A Novel Approach,” lists works of fiction he thinks will help readers understand society and provide insights for effecting change. As he explains, “[Novels] inform us, as no other medium does, about the state of our national soul and character—of the difference between what we say we are and how we actually behave.”  


The updated version of Make A Difference: America’s Guide to Volunteering and Community Service is published by Jossey-Bass and is 149 pages. It sells for $12.95 in paperback.