Service Groups Offer All Ages a Chance to Help Those in Need
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, we look at some popular national service organizations.
Josh Keller of Bethesda, Maryland, is a twenty-four-year-old musician. He studied music for many years. He graduated from the University of Maryland with honors. He is a fine horn player. Not only that, he knows how to lead an orchestra.
But these days, Josh Keller is spending his time digging, cleaning up storm damage and helping repair houses. He is working in Port Arthur, Texas, which was struck by Hurricane Rita a year ago.
Josh Keller is a member of a program called AmeriCorps-NCCC -- the National Civilian Community Corps.
Americans are not required to perform national service, except in times of military drafts. But programs like AmeriCorps are finding plenty of interest these days.
Some people say they became interested because of the September eleventh terrorist attacks five years ago. Others might be influenced not just by world events but also by their schooling. American schools are increasingly urging young people to get involved in service projects. In some schools, community service is required.
Many of the people who join national service programs are college students. In some cases they can receive money to help pay for their studies.
Many others are recent graduates who have delayed their entry into the job market. This is true even though there are more jobs for young people who just finished college than they were last year.
Job offerings are up about fourteen percent among members of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The group says starting pay for college graduates also has increased.
Often the only thing that a person earns from a service organization is the satisfaction of helping others. But it can help young people gain skills for a chosen profession.
For those who are not sure about a profession, the experience might help them decide what they want to do.
Josh Keller is a good example. His service with AmeriCorps has led him to consider working for a nonprofit agency. But whatever he chooses, he says, he still wants to continue his interest in music.
Josh Keller has plenty of experience working with other musicians. But he says he has learned now how to work more effectively in teams.
He serves on a team of ten people with lots of energy. Besides cleaning up storm damage, he has helped build walking trails for visitors at a state park. He has supervised young people at a recreation center. And he has gotten to see parts of the country that he only knew from pictures.
AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps is for men and women age eighteen to twenty-four. The program requires them to serve for ten months. They live at five training centers in California, Colorado, Maryland and South Carolina.
They work in teams of up to twelve to complete service projects throughout the area where they are based. Each project lasts for six to eight weeks. The teams work with nonprofit organizations, state and local agencies, faith-based groups and other community organizations.
The program is intensive. Only one in four candidates is accepted. Members learn to improve public lands and to deal with disasters like storms and floods. They also learn how to fight a forest fire and are taught medical aid.
In return, they get almost five thousand dollars to pay back student loans or to complete their education. They also get help with living expenses. A place to sleep is provided.
Sometimes the teams have to sleep outdoors in tents. Josh Keller and the others on his team slept in a tent this past summer in Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Later they stayed in an empty elementary school. The team was involved in the continuing cleanup from Hurricane Katrina, which struck in August of two thousand five.
In some ways, AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps is similar to a program created in nineteen thirty-three. But that one was started as a result of the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps was established as part of the New Deal policies of President Franklin Roosevelt.
That corps provided food and work for people who had no jobs. The workers built roads, planted trees, put up telephone lines and did other public work projects.
Proposed federal budget cuts for two thousand seven recently threatened the future of the modern corps. Supporters of the program said a proposed reduction of twenty-two million dollars would have effectively ended its operations.
Government officials said the program was too costly and did some work already done by other agencies. They also said the teams were not doing enough disaster-related work – one of the main purposes for AmeriCorps.
Supporters, however, said this criticism at least in part was the result of luck in two thousand four. There was not much disaster work that year. Last year there was much more, with hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The conservation corps represented half the volunteer hours of national service programs after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The corps arrived before the storm hit land.
The new budget has not yet been approved, but the program no longer appears threatened by the proposed cuts.
Another program within AmeriCorps is AmeriCorps-VISTA. VISTA is Volunteers in Service to America. This program is similar to the Peace Corps, but VISTA operates inside the United States. Members spend at least one year in full-time service dealing with the needs of poor communities.
They work with local organizations and public agencies to help bring individuals and communities out of poverty. They work not only to improve education and health services, but also to create businesses and to increase the use of technology.
Over the years, more than four hundred thousand people have served with AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. This independent federal agency operates with public and private support.
Young people are not the only ones involved in its programs. The corporation also operates a Senior Corps for older volunteers.
One of the programs within the Senior Corp is called Foster Grandparents. This is for specially trained volunteers age sixty or older. They provide emotional support for mistreated children and try to help troubled teen-agers and young mothers. They also help children with poor reading skills.
Members of the program who have medical training care for babies born early. They also work with children with disabilities.
Some of the volunteers with limited finances receive free benefits like yearly health examinations. They may also get small payments tax-free.
Senior Companions is another Senior Corps program. These companions assist older people who need help with everyday life.
Since nineteen ninety, fourteen thousand people have taught in the Teach for America program for recent college graduates. Teach for America looks for top graduates in different subjects who are willing to provide two years of paid service in classrooms. Sometimes they are not paid very much. But over the years, these young teachers have worked with two million children in poor communities across the country.
A student at Princeton University, Wendy Kopp, thought of the idea for the program. Teach for America receives public and private support. For example, the Amgen Foundation recently promised five million dollars for a five-year project. Amgen is a biotechnology company.
The goal is to double the number of mathematics and science graduates who join Teach for America by two thousand ten. Their job will be to help improve math and science education in poorly performing schools.
Nineteen thousand people offered to join Teach for America this year. About twenty percent of them studied math, science or engineering in college.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. You can read transcripts of this and other programs and download MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Shirley Griffith, inviting you to join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.