Tens of thousands of Americans will have new opportunities to serve their communities, under legislation President Barack Obama has signed into law.
With the U.S. economy slumping, applications to take part in community service projects have reached record levels, far exceeding the number of positions available. So President Obama has signed a bill providing $5.7 billion for more community volunteer work.
"What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs. It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors and everyone in between," he said.
Under the legislation, the government's AmeriCorps service program will triple in size during the next eight years. About 75,000 AmeriCorps volunteers work on community projects, including education, environmental cleanup and assisting the poor. Former President Bill Clinton, who established AmeriCorps in 1993, was present for the announcement.
The legislation is named for Senator Edward Kennedy, whose brother, the late president John F. Kennedy, established the Peace Corps in 1961. At Tuesday's announcement, Senator Kennedy recalled his conversations with some of the first Peace Corps volunteers.
"And they said it was the first time that anyone asked them to do anything for their country. Today, another young president has challenged another generation to give back to this nation," he said.
Mr. Obama said his own experience as a community service organizer in Chicago greatly enriched his life. "Through service I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction that I had been seeking. I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America," he said.
Congress passed the bill last month with support from both major political parties. Some Republicans say it costs too much and is unnecessary government involvement in activities many Americans would do without federal help.
Nonetheless, Mr. Obama said more Americans should get involved in helping their communities. "We need your service, right now, at this moment in history. I am not going to tell you what your role should be. That is for you to discover. But I am asking you to stand up and play your part," he said.
The bill-signing took place at a public boarding school that emphasizes education and community service for inner-city teenagers. Afterward, the president, his wife Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden went to a nearby park to plant trees.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama says he will nominate Maria Eitel, an executive of the Nike sports equipment company, to lead the federal agency that oversees the country's national service programs - the Corporation for National and Community Service.