Robert Coles, Harvard psychiatrist and author of over 50 books, grew up in a family that believed in community service. His mother was active in volunteer work because of her religious beliefs. His father had a passionate devotion to the less fortunate which grew out of an unspoken faith. In The Call of Service Robert Coles examines the nature of altruistic action. This substantive book is based on 30 years of field studies as a teacher and a volunteer.

Coles affirms the character and the moral stamina of those who have dedicated themselves to helping others through volunteer work or community service. Interviews conducted in soup kitchens, prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes reveal that there are deep inner rewards to be gained by the call of service. Many of these individuals are buoyed by their experience of community or by the personal fulfillment of doing something worthwhile.

Coles recounts his own experiences in the early days of the civil rights movement and his recent efforts as a volunteer inner-city elementary school teacher. One of his mentors, Dorothy Day, once told him that those who do charity work should have no preconceptions. She said: "I have some grand notions in my head but they often fall by the wayside when I'm sitting at the table talking with one person, hearing all that has happened in one life."

The call of service, as demonstrated on the pages of this book, is not always easy or consistently uplifting. There are the hazards that come with helping others, such as misunderstanding, exhaustion, and even burnout. Nonetheless, young and old continue to reach out to others in the hopes of making a better world. The Call of Service blesses this idealistic zeal and makes it clear that the moral energy which animates volunteers shows no signs of waning.