Ballington and Maud Booth, envisioned a movement dedicated to “reaching and uplifting” all people, to “go wherever we are needed, and do whatever comes to hand.” With this as their guiding principal, on March 18, 1896, they announced the birth of a new organization dedicated to serving the spiritual and material needs of the poor and disadvantaged: Volunteers of America. Ballington and Maud were the son and daughter-in-law of the founder of The Salvation Army, and as such, they had a deep understanding of philanthropy and the desire to serve. That first year they opened the VOALA Mission Hall at 126 North Main Street in downtown Los Angeles.
As the years went by, Volunteers of America evolved from being an evangelical mission to a well-established human services agency. VOA moved into day-care and summer camps, provided housing, sponsored disaster relief, set up food pantries, helped found the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and established the nation’s first system of halfway houses for released prisoners.
With the help of Reverend Welch, a retired Methodist minister, and J. J. Newberry, founder of Newberry stores, a home for children was opened at 23rd Street and Vernon Avenue in 1906. By 1907, another home for children, two shelters for men and a camp for disadvantaged mothers had been created.
Volunteers of America served on the home front during both world wars, operating canteens, overnight lodging and Sunday breakfasts for soldiers and sailors on leave. Affordable housing and child care were provided for defense industry workers. VOA spearheaded salvage drives, collecting millions of pounds of scrap metal, rubber and fiber for the war effort.
In 1923, the first VOALA home for the aged was opened.
During the Depression Years 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.
During the 1940’s a large Mission was opened at 333 South Los Angeles Street and the Brandon Guest House opened its doors at 735 Hartford Avenue.
Following World War II, social services became the overriding priority and has remained the organization’s emphasis.
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.
The VOALA Parent Child Center in Harbor City was opened in 1968.
By the 1970’s, VOALA began redirecting their efforts towards serving those experiencing homelessness, struggling with addictions, chronic mental illness or returning to society from the criminal justice system.
With the help of a community fund drive in 1970, Volunteers of America purchased a 500 unit apartment complex in North Hollywood to build a child care and family services center.
In 1971, Volunteers of America became the first not-for-profit organization funded for the Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound programs.
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.
With the help of actress Jan Clayton, the Hollywood Center for alcohol and drug addiction recovery was opened in 1978.
The first Positive Alternatives Program was started in 1980, providing drug abuse prevention and education for children in schools and community centers.
In 1982, Ballington Plaza opened at 622 South Wall Street in downtown Los Angeles providing housing 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.
Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles added six Head Start sites in North Hollywood in 1995.
A program to provide companion pet care to low-income seniors began in 1995 as part of the Senior Nutrition program in Long Beach.
By merging with the Huntington Youth Center in 1996, Volunteers of America provides shelter to runaway and homeless children in Huntington Beach.
Now more than 100 years old, Volunteers of America’s services have evolved with the changing times, however the organization still retains the essence of Maud and Ballington's work. VOALA continues to this day as a faith-based organization with a far broader scope of support and services for all regardless of race, gender, age or religious preference.