Darlington Town Mission celebrated its 175th anniversary on Tuesday night. The celebrations were joined by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Reverend Mark Bryant.
The Mission was formed in 1838 by two Quakers and another local figure to meet the needs of people suffering hardship, including poverty.
Today, it offers services to the local community, including paying visits to residents who request help.
This includes alleviating loneliness and giving practical support to people whose relatives live elsewhere.
In 2011, the Mission made 810 visits to locals and organised outings for 267 people.
It is supported by volunteers and funded entirely through donations.
Bishop Bryant praised the Mission as a wonderful example of the real difference volunteers can make to the lives of individuals and communities.
"Jesus Himself was a volunteer. One of the very first Christians writing about Jesus says that, though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. That He emptied Himself taking the form of a slave and was born as a human being," he said.
"In other words Jesus does not have to do what He does but He volunteers to come and live among us as a human being. In other words He volunteers to put Himself into our shoes.
"What the story of Jesus shows us is that compassion comes when we put ourselves into the shoes of other people and what that means, I believe, is that we shall become a much more compassionate society as more and more people have the opportunity to become volunteers because at the very heart of compassion is a willingness to listen to other people and good volunteering means good listening."
He said society needed to find more ways for people to volunteer so that they could learn how to think about the needs of others.
"Our society is the society that can always use a very significant injection of compassion and that's what the town mission is doing," he said.
"What something like the Darlington Town Mission shows us is that in society we desperately need the voluntary and charity sector not just for what they do but because it offers the opportunity for all of us to stand in the shoes of others and for our compassion to be enlarged."