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 little bit."

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 workplace."

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.