Why “The Give Back”?


HI USA gives back by offering free overnight stays to groups who are engaged in community service activities every January and February.   Why?

Volunteerism is a core American value.  It’s so much a part of American life that it’s embodied in the US Constitution.   That makes volunteerism uniquely important to an intercultural organization like HI USA.  Because values are a big part of every nation’s culture, and volunteerism is part of ours.

It was a French general, Alexis de Tocqueville, who in an influential travel journal 175 years ago first called wide attention to the importance of volunteering to the American character.  As a country, the USA continues to have one of the world’s highest volunteer rates, and the volunteer experience is widely credited with building civic engagement and a more informed electorate.

And it was an American pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., who led the mid-century American civil rights movement in life, and whose legacy promotes community service as part of his national holiday celebrated on the third Monday of every January.  This year “Day of Service” events attracted hundreds of thousands of volunteers to community projects on MLK Day.

Yet, while the MLK Day of Service is strong and growing, participation of Americans in year round volunteer activities has declined over the past decade.  The weak economy is partly at fault, but shifting public attitudes towards volunteering also may be at play.  And while community service has become a rite of passage for US students, it seems to have become as much a graduation requirement as an individual choice.

As a nonprofit, HI USA has a special stake in a healthy, growing civil society.  And with hostels across the United States, we have a unique opportunity to invigorate it.

Enter the Great Hostel Give Back It infuses community service learning with the fun of travel.

There’s a special kind of energy that comes from student and community groups piling into cars and buses and heading to one of our dozens of hostels nationwide for a service project they conceive.  They receive one free night’s stay each day they spend volunteering at least two hours in the surrounding community.  (Our hostels are not the recipient of their volunteer work; our communities are!)   They also have access to the hostel’s regular program and activity offerings.  And for the rest of their visit, they experience the sights and sounds of a new city.

Our hostels large and small – from Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Santa Monica, to Harpers Ferry, Houston and Sacramento – have already hosted GHGB groups in January, all at no charge.  We want to hear from you if GHGB fits into your group’s February plans. Or contact us now about January and February 2016!   It’s simple; you can reach us at groups@hiusa.org.

The MLK Day of Service is a “a day of action” for community service.  By extending our commitment over two months, HI USA is endorsing its importance while making available a unique brand of travel-infused volunteerism that is both rewarding and fun.


By | 2018-04-19T18:13:01+00:00 February 3rd, 2015|All, Our Community|0 Comments

About the Author:

Since 2000, Russ has been the CEO of Hostelling International USA (HI USA), a nonprofit, member organization founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places, and the world around. The HI USA hostel network is consistently recognized as one of the best in world by the International Youth Hostel Federation and by independent rating agencies. Russ has been a featured speaker at national and international conferences on topics ranging from experiential education to nonprofit management. Russ serves on the Boards of the UNWTO, US Travel Association, and WYSTC.

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