December 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 6 // Research in Brief // 6RIB2

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Hispanic American Volunteering

This article discusses a qualitative study that identified the attitudes, motivations, and barriers of Hispanic Americans in Cleveland, Ohio toward volunteerism. Twenty participants were interviewed, and the constant comparative method (multiple raters) was used to analyze the data. Six themes were identified: (1) influence of family and fiends; (2) importance of volunteering to benefit youth; (3) importance of church and religious beliefs; (4) volunteering as a requirement; (5) connections between volunteerism and the community; (6) personal satisfaction and growth. Extension and community agencies should actively develop aggressive volunteer recruitment efforts to enhance the participation of Hispanic Americans as volunteers.

Josué López
Dept. of Agricultural and Extension Education
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Internet Address:

R. Dale Safrit
Associate Professor
Dept. of Human and Community Resource Development
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet Address:


The United States is a country where giving and volunteering is a pervasive characteristic of the total society (O'Connell & O'Connell, 1989). A study conducted in five central Ohio cities indicated that the typical adult volunteer was white and both middle-aged and middle-class (Safrit, King, & Burscu, 1994). According to Peterson et al. (1992), many of the critical issues facing contemporary urban communities directly affect non-white, limited resource, and both younger and older adult populations. Therefore, volunteer agencies and organizations are encouraged to make concerted efforts to identify and locate individuals within these population segments for targeted recruitment as program volunteers.

The 2000 census recorded a total 35.3 million people under the designation Hispanic (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Although Hispanics live in every state, California, Texas, and New York have the largest concentrations, followed by Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado (Longres, 1995). According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (2000), Ohio has a total of 217,123 Hispanic residents, and the largest concentrations live in Cuyahoga, Lucas, and Lorain counties.

Fisher and Cole (1993) suggested that despite Hispanic Americans' long traditions of involvement in volunteer groups, including trade and professional associations, and women's and men's clubs and unions, their numbers are underrepresented in contemporary volunteer programs. "Mainstream volunteer programs have not reached out sufficiently to include as diverse a volunteer pool as possible" to accommodate cultural differences in such programs (Ellis & Noyes, 1990, p. 361). Similarly, Gallegos and O'Neil (1991), recommended that in this era of rising needs and limited resources Hispanics' talents should be mobilized through the aggressive recruitment, training, and stimulation of volunteers.

Even with the increasing emphasis on, attention to, and valuing of cultural diversity in Cooperative Extension organizations during the past decade (Buck, 1997; Ewert & Rice, 1994; Gear, 1992; Ludwig, 1995; Williams, 1992), non-Anglo volunteers are still a largely invisible minority in Extension programs. Hobbs (2000) suggested that in order to effectively and efficiently target and engage volunteers from the Latino community, volunteer programs must find ways to build relationships with and establish trust within the community.

However, even more fundamental research and insights are needed into the motivations of Hispanic Americans who actively contribute their personal leadership skills and abilities as volunteers. The purpose of the study reported here was to identify the attitudes, motivations, and barriers of Hispanic Americans toward participating in volunteer programs in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.


Research Design

This study used a qualitative methodology to portray potential patterns of volunteerism among Hispanic Americans. Qualitative methods are especially useful in the generation of categories for understanding human phenomena and for the investigation of the interpretation and meaning that people give to events they experience (Polkinghorne, 1991). According to Miles and Huberman (1994), qualitative data are a source of well-grounded, rich descriptions and explanations of processes in identifiable local context.


The researchers identified 20 residents of the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Hispanic American community to participate in the study. Lincoln and Guba (1985) agreed that a naturalistic qualitative design is more likely to favor purposive "sampling" because the participant thereby increases the scope of range of data exposed as well as the likelihood that the full array of multiple realities will be uncovered. Eight males and 12 females participated in the interviews. They ranged in age from 20 to 70 years.


The researchers developed an interview schedule consisting of 15 open-ended questions with appropriate probes. The schedule focused on the following six categories:

  • Attitudes towards volunteerism;
  • Level and type of volunteer activities;
  • Degree of involvement in present, past, and potential future volunteering activities;
  • Motivations for volunteering or not volunteering or volunteering more, barriers towards volunteering; and
  • Benefits experienced from volunteering.

The questionnaire was written in Spanish, translated into English, and back-translated into Spanish in order to establish its validity, and for analysis purposes.

Data Collection and Analysis

Face-to-face interviews were conducted in Spanish and tape- recorded with the participants' knowledge and consent. Following the interviews' transcription and translation into English, the tapes were destroyed to preserve the participants' confidentiality. Interviews averaged 30 minutes.

The researchers analyzed the study data using the inductive, constant comparative method (multiple raters) described by Glaser and Strauss (1967) to identify reoccurring themes from the study data. This method uses two essential processes (unitizing and categorizing) and the continual revision, modification, and amendment until all new units can be placed into an appropriate category and the inclusion of addition units into categories provides no new information.

Three professionals familiar with either volunteerism and/or Hispanic American culture served as raters and carefully read each transcribed interview. They submitted identified themes to the researchers, who collapsed the respective themes into overarching themes and resubmitted them to the raters. The raters reviewed the researchers' collapsed themes and suggested revisions based upon their individual original ideas. The process was repeated twice until both raters and researchers agreed upon the resulting themes unanimously. The researchers also calculated frequencies and percentages to better investigate the occurrence of individual issues within the overarching themes.


The six major recurring themes (and the issues that formed the focus of each theme) identified from the data are shown in Tables 1 to 5. Participant opinions and quotations important to the interpretation of a theme are included after each table.

Theme 1. The Influence of Family and Friends on Volunteering

Table 1
Theme 1. The Influence of Family and Friends on Volunteering

Related Issues



Increased volunteering when family and friends ask



Family responsibilities as a barrier to volunteering



Increased volunteering when own children are involved



  • "A Hispanic friend invited me to volunteer, and we organized a group of 600 women who advocated for our rights."

  • "I volunteered the first time with my father raising funds for the muscular dystrophy."

  • "I have family obligations that keep me from give more time."

  • "I want my children to grow up with the same feeling I have towards serving our community."

  • "The first time I volunteered was in my child's school helping out the teacher."

Theme 2. The Importance of Volunteering to Benefit Youth

No related issues emerged.

  • "Now I am going to teach Hispanic children who were born here about their own culture."

  • "The first time I became involved in volunteering was developing activities for children who have been abused."

  • "I will keep volunteering for youth in activities against gangs and youth violence"

Theme 3. The Importance of Church and Religious Beliefs in Volunteering

Table 2
Theme 3. The Importance of Church and Religious Beliefs in Volunteering

Related Issues



The role of church as a setting for volunteering



Religious beliefs as a positive motivation for volunteering



  • "Most frequently I have given time to Saint Michael's Parish."

  • "I see my work as a calling, as a mission."

  • "I think as a Christian I should help my neighbor"

Theme 4. Volunteering as a Requirement of Employment or Education

Table 3
Theme 4. Volunteering as a Requirement of Employment or Education

Related Issues



Mixed opinions regarding employer-required volunteerism

   Should not be required



   Should be required



The need for volunteerism as a high school graduation requirement



  • "I don't think that it should be required, but the opportunity to volunteer should be provided."

  • "Employees should volunteer in order to understand the needs in that community."

  • "That will keep students busy and involved in the development of their community; they will see the changes their own work has produced."

Theme 5. The Connections Between Volunteering and the Community

Table 4
Theme 5. The Connections Between Volunteering and the Community

Related Issues



Community interdependence through helping others



The community becomes stronger and unified through volunteering



The role of volunteerism in identifying and addressing community needs



Community barriers to volunteering



  • "In this life we are interdependent of one another, we have to help one another mutually."

  • "The more together we work, the more united and stronger we become, and more likely to be able to change things around."

  • "Now I understand that my community has more needs than I thought, I feel that I still have to give more time."

  • "People in the community think that because they are not professionals, or do not have formal education they cannot volunteer."

Theme 6. Personal Satisfaction and Growth Experienced Through Volunteerism

Table 5
Theme 6. Personal Satisfaction and Growth Experienced Through Volunteerism

Related Issues



Increased positive attitudes toward self as a result of volunteering



Increased positive attitudes toward others as a result of volunteering



Volunteered when asked



Volunteered without being asked



Benefits from volunteering



  • "Now giving my time, I am not shy anymore, and it has improved my people skills."

  • "I am blessed serving the organization I have volunteered for."

  • "The desire to give time to serve comes from inner being and I think it's cultural, we like to serve other people."

  • "I have been recognized by the state, the city, and the local community because of my volunteer work"


Based upon the findings, the researchers suggest the following conclusions for Hispanic Americans in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, as supported by the authors identified.

  • The involvement of family and friends in volunteering can be a positive influence, but also a barrier (Nestor, 1984).

  • Youth activities and services are especially appealing to the Hispanic Americans interviewed.

  • Religious affiliation is both a motivation and setting for volunteering because Hispanic Americans are driven together by their religious beliefs (Swenson, 1990).

  • Companies and employers should support and encourage volunteering among employees but not actually mandate it.

  • Participants pointed out that service-learning would provide students with experience and skills, and enhance their self-esteem (Kennedy, 1991).

  • The community became stronger through volunteering, and special links between participants and the community were created (Fisher & Cole, 1993).

  • Participants improved their self-esteem and interpersonal skills as a result of volunteerism.

  • Participants in this study were more likely to volunteer without being asked; however, they were willing to participate whether or not they were asked.

Implications and Recommendations

  • Extension programs should establish and strengthen relations with Hispanic American serving agencies, especially religious organizations. Collaborations with nonprofit organizations and volunteer centers could result in creative ways for entire Hispanic American families to volunteer. Extension and other community agencies should actively develop aggressive volunteer recruitment efforts to enhance the participation of Hispanic Americans as volunteers in their communities.

  • Extension professionals administering volunteer programs must actively seek opportunities to learn about, learn from, and engage Hispanic Americans in the community. Safrit and Merrill (2000) identified the ability to "develop the personal capacity to value" diversity and pluralism as a capacity critical to the future of the volunteer administration profession.

  • Churches and religious and spiritual leaders in the community should find ways to recognize and promote volunteerism among their members.

  • Schools in Cuyahoga County, Ohio should find ways to promote and implement service-learning in their curricula, potentially in partnership with 4-H Youth Development programs.

  • Extension should sponsor and/or conduct community-based "leadership academies" that should take place in cities with large Hispanic American populations to take advantage of their community motivations for volunteering.

  • Additional research should be conducted to investigate Hispanic American volunteerism within Extension programs at the state and national levels, especially in geographical areas with larger concentrations of Hispanic Americans (Longres, 1995).


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