The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism.

Coles, Robert. The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism. Mariner Books, 1994.

Robert Coles’ “Call to Service: A Witness to Idealism” is an expansive narrative that describes how volunteer action brings together people in a two-way relationship that opens up the possibilities not just of delivering educational and economic services to the needy, but more importantly the occasion to learn about one another. Although any single paradigm does not exhaustively capture the relationships surrounding volunteer service, not the least the recipient-and-giver perspective, there are transformations which occur in reciprocity.
Replete with accounts of his own several volunteer service experiences and those of his mentors – Dorothy Day, Anna Freud, William Carlos Williams, and his parents – this book covers a large chunk of Coles’ life as a volunteer and teacher. Although Coles presents a sort of typology of volunteer service, he makes it clear that it is only to aid narration, not to separate services in watertight compartments. There is always considerable overlap in various types of volunteer services such as Coles describes: social and political, community oriented, charity, religiously sanctioned, government sanctioned, and services to the country.
Coles goes on to describe the satisfactions people derive from engaging in volunteer service; there is a sense of self-fulfillment and achievement from doing something worthwhile. However, volunteer action is not without the hazards that constantly attend those rendering the services: there are episodic experiences of despair and doubt, discouragement and depression, cynicism, arrogance, bitterness, and even anger.
The best volunteer services are performed by those who realize that they are engaged in a transformative relationship and who are not motivated by the martyr’s sense of sacrifice or as agents of change. The art is to genuinely like the people who are being served. The call to service is the call to join with others to make things better in this world.