Action Guide > Action > Direct Service

Direct service is about hands-on involvement. Direct service can be one-time
only projects, an on-going commitment, working with a group, working alone,
working in a set location or moving from place to place. Some organizations
are considered “direct service providers,” meaning their mission is to meet
people’s immediate needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, or medical care.
Direct service encompasses anything from sitting with the elderly in a nursing
home to complicated technical work. The possibilities are endless.

Some noteworthy people in the field of direct service:

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was an Albanian Roman Catholic nun who founded the
Missionaries of Charity. In 1948, Mother Teresa started an open-air school
for slum children in Calcutta. Shortly thereafter, she was joined by voluntary
helpers and given financial support which made it possible for her to extend
the scope of her work. She opened a home for those suffering from Hansen’s
disease, commonly known as leprosy, providing medication, bandages and
food. She founded the Missionaries of Charity to care for, in her own words,
“the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all
those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society,
people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

It began as a small order with 13 members in Calcutta. Today it has
more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work.

Trevor Ferrell
At the age of 11, Trevor Ferrell saw a TV newscast about people living on the
streets and pleaded with his parents to take him to downtown Philadelphia so he could give his blanket and pillow to the first homeless person he met. In ensuing weeks, with the help of family, classmates and neighbors, Trevor made nightly trips into Philadelphia to distribute food, clothing and blankets to the needy. This campaign soon matured into the creation of a homeless shelter with an entire array of programs for the homeless.

Direct service definition adapted from “Ways to Give Direct Service” by Catherine Jackson (


Web Resources

An interactive site full of service news, funding opportunities, best practices,
and volunteer opportunities. Visitors may sign up for their monthly newsletter The National Service Briefing.

The Corporation for National and Community Service
The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency established in 1993, is the nation’s largest grant maker supporting national and community service programs and volunteerism. Its most well known programs are AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America.
Provides volunteers with a direct connection to local volunteer opportunities
that match interests, skills, and the common desire to make a difference.

J-Serve is the annual day of service for Jewish youth throughout the world. It is a day on which Jewish teens join their counterparts in other faith communities, other cities and other countries in giving of their time to serve the communities in which they live.

Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps
A year-long program for Jews in their 20s from across North America to work
on urban poverty issues as full-time employees in local non-profit organizations while living and studying together, forming a community of people making a connection between social activism and Jewish life.

The Jewish Coalition for Service
An excellent resource to find service programs, the mission of the Jewish
Coalition for Service is to inspire everyone in the Jewish community to
dedicate a part of their lives to full-time, hands-on volunteer service. Over
50 programs are affiliated with the Coalition.



Robert Coles, The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism
(Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993)
Eminent Harvard psychiatrist Coles examines the idealistic motives of people
who engage in volunteer work, community service or civil rights activism.
Mixing autobiographical reminiscence, analysis and oral testimony, he interviews Peace Corps members as well as volunteers in hospitals, schools,
prisons and nursing homes.

Samuel P. Oliner, Do Unto Others: Extraordinary Acts of Ordinary People
(Westview Press, 2003)
Holocaust survivor and sociologist Samuel Oliner explores the factors that
cause to develop an individual a sense of social responsibility, what leads
to the development of care and compassion, and what it means to put the
welfare of others ahead of one’s own.






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