TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
March 17, 1998
Hundreds of thousands of America's college students are on spring break this week. Some are playing volleyball at the beach. Others are earning some extra cash at part-time jobs or just hanging out at home.
Seven thousand, though, are spending their vacation building homes with Habitat for Humanity's Collegiate Challenge. Under the leadership of several hundred AmeriCorps members, these student volunteers are learning valuable skills at Habitat sites from Lynchburg, Va., to Miami.
Elsewhere this week, AmeriCorps members are collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross to recruit and train high school and college students to work in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters.
Among my husband's accomplishments that I am most proud of is his success in returning national service to the national agenda. The centerpiece of this effort is the Corporation for National Service and its three initiatives -- AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America, and the National Senior Service Corps.
AmeriCorps provides an opportunity for all Americans to serve, in exchange for which they can receive education awards worth $4,725 a year to pay for college or to repay student loans.
Learn and Serve America offers grants to teachers and community members for projects that involve students in service activities that complement their classroom studies. Through a Learn and Serve America program in Minnesota, for example, high school students test the water quality of the St. Louis River as part of their chemistry class, and in New York, nursing students help operate a community health center serving low-income people.
The National Senior Service Corps helps people over 55 find service opportunities related to their interests. Foster Grandparents provide support to children with special needs; Senior Companions enable more than 32,000 frail elderly individuals to live independently; and Retired and Senior Volunteers care for a variety of local services that range from leading local museum tours to teaching adult education computer classes.
This week, my husband will submit bipartisan legislation to Congress reauthorizing the Corporation for National Service. Serving others and giving back is part of what it means to be an American and part of what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society. Extending Congressional support for national service into the 21st century will give millions more Americans the opportunity to serve and strengthen their communities.
Over the course of the last five years, communities in every corner of America have discovered the value of national service. What they have learned is that national service works. It works for the country, and it works for those who serve.
Vanesse Backe postponed medical school in order to join an AmeriCorps project here in Washington. Her experience changed her professional goals: She has decided to use her medical knowledge to help under-served populations.
Senior volunteer Joe Whitlow is a hero to a classroom of 4-year-olds in the Head Start program at Bellevue Community College in Bellevue, Wash. For more than 10 years, he has volunteered his time and talents on a weekly basis. Wednesday is "Joe Day," when he brings bags filled with wood, hammers, drills, glue guns, nails and screws. He and the children create toy boats and birdhouses, and learn about woodworking and working together.
Four years ago, Marilyn Concepcion was a high school dropout working on an assembly line. Then, she joined the AmeriCorps program in Providence, R.I., where she tutored and taught English to elementary students. During her year of service, she earned her GED and gained the confidence to apply for college. She is now studying to become a pediatrician at Brown University.
Sherry Thomas grew up in Clearwater, Fla., in the predominantly black, low-income North Greenwood neighborhood. At the age of 14, she was living on the streets because of an abusive situation at home. Today, in her second year as an AmeriCorps member, Sherry is helping to build community playgrounds and participating in neighborhood cleanups, crime patrols, crime prevention and after-school programs for at-risk youth. Sherry has become a role model for the disadvantaged kids in the very neighborhood where she grew up.
Luis Pizarro is a former gang member and drug dealer. He turned his life around by serving as an AmeriCorps member in Milwaukee, Wis. In the same community where he used to deal drugs, he now helps at-risk youth build self-esteem and find alternatives to joining gangs.
At a time when we look at each other across so many divides -- economic, political, racial, religious, cultural -- our country cries out for a common connection to bring us together. National service can provide that connection -- helping us rediscover the bonds of friendship, teamwork and community that tie us together.
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