President Obama made
national service a theme of his campaign.
The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which he signed on last week,
expands current AmeriCorps programs for Americans who wish to serve. These offer opportunities for people of all
ages. One puts about 11000, 18 to 24-year-olds to work on a variety of
community service projects. The National
Civilian Community Corps was inspired by a program created 75 years ago, during
the Great Depression.
Michelle Sandone, 22,
says she looked into a number of different AmeriCorps programs, because she
wanted to do a year of service. She
chose the National Civilian Community Corps, "because not only do they provide housing
and meals and things like that, they also give you a small stipend and you get
to travel around."
When VOA spoke with
Sandone, she was working with her team members in a park in Baltimore, Maryland,
removing unwanted plants. Their next project will probably be something
entirely different. "They could be chinking a log cabin in West Virginia. They could be doing taxes in [the] inner
city. They could be eradicating invasive species like they are doing here,"
says Janet Boyer, a community relations specialist with the NCCC.
NCCC volunteers also
work with children, build homes with Habitat for Humanity, fight wildfires and
provide aid following disasters. Ever since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005,
all volunteers spend several weeks on the Gulf Coast.
Volunteers work in
teams of eight to 10. During the 10-month program, a volunteer will spend most
of the time with his or her team.
"There is a lot of joking around and exploring the different cities
that you are in," says team leader Katie Lamarca, who is doing her second tour
with NCCC. She says volunteers form strong bonds with their team members.
Now in its 15th year,
the National Civilian Community Corps was inspired by the Civilian Conservation
Corps. The CCC was created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 to provide work
for young men when unemployment rates were at 25 percent in the United
States. Most of their work was done
outside, planting trees. They were paid
a small salary, and most of the money they earned was sent directly to their
families to support their parents and siblings.
The current recession may be having an
impact on enrollment in the NCCC, which pays volunteers a small stipend and
some benefits, including a $5000 education credit that can be use toward
student loans or continuing education.
"I think part of the reason we
are seeing an increase in applicants is because of that, especially the college
graduates," says Boyer. But she believes another reason is driving young people
to apply. "There is a focus among the
young people now that, before they start their careers they want to give back a
That's not only why
Michelle Sandone applied, but also why Aaron Villere wanted to join the
corps. "I was really planning on
doing this my whole senior year [last year in college]," he says. "I just
wanted to get a year's service in before I had to go to the actual
Aaron is already
thinking about signing up for another year. About four in 10 of NCCC graduates
decide to return or volunteer with another program like the Peace Corps.