FORGING the vision for the Peace Corps, President Kennedy said in
his 1961 inaugural address, "To those peoples in the huts and
villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass
misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves."
Today, President Clinton joins 1,000 young volunteers on the
White House lawn and more than 14,000 others by satellite to
initiate them into his inaugural vision: a national service program
known as "AmeriCorps."
Although AmeriCorps is operating on a vision borrowed from the
Peace Corps and its domestic relative, Volunteers in Service to
America (VISTA), Mr. Clinton's program is bigger - and initially
Charged with "getting things done," 20,000 volunteers - versus
6,500 Peace Corps volunteers - will be dispatched this year to
inner cities and rural areas to work with community organizations
in the areas of education, public safety, human needs, and the
In return, AmeriCorps participants will get a bonus that Peace
Corps and VISTA volunteers do not: up to $9,450 to help pay for an
According the Eli Segal, director of the Corporation for
National Service, the federal agency that runs the program, "There
are well in excess of 100,000 young people ... eager to participate
Clinton hopes that eventually all 100,000 will be able to join.
The budget for the program, which begins Oct. 1, is $300 million -
compared with the Peace Corp's $219 million. For next year, Clinton
wants to double the budget, but he will need to convince Congress
of the merits of the program.
Why such a resounding response so far? "There is a trend
toward a greater social conscience," says Linda Sax of the Los
Angeles-based Higher Education Research Institute, which surveys
240,000 college freshmen each year.
"Students are more committed to social issues than they have
been since the '60s," she says. "They care about issues like
race, the environment, and family."
But at the same time, she says, "they are also more realistic"
- an attitude she attributes to the tough circumstances in which
many youths grow up.
Both attitudes - idealism and realism - seem to work in
Clinton's favor and make-up the strong response to his program.
Four weeks ago, for instance, Sandra Hollinger returned from a
two-year Peace Corps tour in Botswana.
Still bursting with idealism, she became an AmeriCorps trainer.
Working for a "Weed and Seed" program in Philadelphia, Ms.
Hollinger will train AmeriCorps volunteers to provide social
services, build community gardens, and organize anti-drug vigils.
"In Botswana, the ethic of service is just a part of the
people," but in the United States, she says, "there was a lull
during which we thought `me, me, me. …