November 10 , 2001- Tulsa World: Expanding national service ; Bush support lends weight to important program

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2001: 11 November 2001 Peace Corps Headlines: November 10 , 2001- Tulsa World: Expanding national service ; Bush support lends weight to important program

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Read this story from the Tulsa World on support for Americorps, America's domestic Peace Corps:

Expanding national service ; Bush support lends weight to important program

Expanding national service ; Bush support lends weight to important program

Nov 10, 2001 - Tulsa World Author(s): Marianne Means

WASHINGTON -- Former President Bill Clinton was so proud of his volunteer youth service program, AmeriCorps, that as he left the White House he asked incoming President Bush to protect it against critical Republican members of Congress who wanted to kill it.

Bush, whose father championed the spirit of volunteerism during his earlier presidential term, responded positively. He guarded the AmeriCorps budget, kept the concept alive and began recasting it in his own image by planning ways to increase its involvement with faith- based groups.

In his second week in office, Bush gave the subject a priority by calling for an enlarged role for all national service programs, including AmeriCorps. This represented a substantive political breakthrough, since much of the congressional resistance came from GOP conservatives dedicated to trashing anything having to do with Clinton. Bush gave it bipartisan appeal and an assured future.

Thank goodness. Suddenly, in a climate of grave international crisis, the preservation of the AmeriCorps idea of encouraging national volunteer service seems wiser and more important than ever.

Two senators have proposed an exciting plan to strengthen and expand the program by embracing the new challenges of heightened security and civil defense requirements. It will provide an opportunity for useful, patriotic service to our country with minimal physical or financial sacrifice.

Once more it is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is leading the charge to put a contemporary, compassionate face on the creaky old Republican Party. McCain and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., are sponsoring a measure to enlarge AmeriCorps to 250,000 volunteers each year, divided between those assigned to fulfill civil defense duties and those who will meet the continuing responsibilities of tutoring children, aiding the elderly, building low-cost housing and handling other community needs.

In an article in the New York Times, McCain and Bayh bemoan the fact that "for all its concrete achievements, AmeriCorps has been too small to rouse the nation's imagination." They propose to remedy that by funding not only community projects but new, short-term military enlistments that will offer a bonus for both active and reserve duty.

When Clinton created AmeriCorps in 1993, conservative Republicans mocked it as a program to indulge hippie kids at taxpayer expense. They tried repeatedly to destroy it. Only Clinton's veto threat kept it alive.

But as the years went by, many of its critics came to appreciate the program and support it. By 1999, a Republican effort to eliminate its funding in the Senate was defeated by a bipartisan coalition that included 16 GOP senators.

McCain, for instance, originally voted against it. Now he says "I was wrong ... I've got to say that, over all, the program's been a success." Former Rep. John Kasich, who headed the House budget committee, criticized the program for paying participants, calling it an oxymoron because he thought volunteers were supposed to work for free. Now he supports it, saying, "I have seen them do some amazing things."

AmeriCorps has been changing hearts and minds because it actually works. The nation's governors like it. Young volunteers have sheltered the homeless; pounded nails for former President Jimmy Carter's favorite project, Habitat for Humanity; run after-school centers for inner-city youngsters and multiplied the impact of nonprofit organizations across the country.

The agency has cleverly tried to avoid partisan politics. It works with volunteer programs dear to Republicans as well as Democrats, such as former President Bush's Point of Lights Foundation and Secretary of State Colin Powell's America's Promise.

Currently only about 250,000 volunteers have participated in the six years of the program because of its limited budget. This is, however, more people than served in the celebrated Peace Corps created by President John Kennedy 40 years ago. AmeriCorps has a budget of $435 million, about the same level this year as last.

A one-year commitment gives corps members job skills, a modest living allowance, health coverage and $4,725 toward going to college or paying back student loans.

The recovery efforts after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dramatized our dependence on the passion of volunteers willing to help others. Public service in less traumatic circumstances is equally important to build character, heal wounds, inspire good citizenship and spread a shared sense of community. Civilization relies on such good works for its very survival.

CREDIT:Marianne Means writes for Hearst Newspapers. Her e-mail address is

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