22 April 2009

Obama Signs Bill to Expand AmeriCorps Service Program.

The Associated Press • April 22, 2009 •Salinas Californian staff writer Kimber Solana contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON - A president who credits community service with giving him direction in life opened that opportunity to tens of thousands more Americans on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama signed a $5.7 billion national service bill that triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program over the next eight years and expands ways for students to earn money for college by helping those in their neighborhoods.

Though how the funds will be distributed is still unknown, said Jillian Wiker, program director of AmeriCorp's Monterey County United for Literacy.

Excited about the prospect of getting more funds, Wiker said "we don't know how [the funds] will trickle down, but this will positively impact our program," adding it will give them the opportunity to expand their operation.

With more funding, Wiker said they'll be able to hire more people. AmeriCorps in Monterey County has 30 full-time volunteers serving 1,700 hours a year, Wiker said.

Since January, Wiker said, the program has received a total of 80 applications - more than three times the amount of applications they received at this time last year.

The United for Literacy program helps students from kindergarten to fourth grade increase their reading skills and comprehension to grade level. Volunteer tutors serve the Alisal Union School District in Salinas and the community of Greenfield in south Monterey County.

United for Literacy members receive a yearly stipend of $10,775 and receive an education award of $4,725 upon completion of minimum hours of service. The service law Obama signed expands ways for students and seniors to earn money for college through their volunteer work. It aims to foster and fulfill people's desire to make a difference, such as mentoring children, cleaning up parks or buildings and weatherizing homes for the poor.

"What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs," said Obama, a former community organizer in Chicago.

"It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors and everyone in between," he said. "And it is just the beginning of a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to involve our greatest resource - our citizens - in the work of remaking this nation."

"I'm asking you to help change history's course, put your shoulder up against the wheel," Obama said. "And if you do, I promise you your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century." Congress passed the bill last month with largely bipartisan support and Obama is seeking $1.1 billion to fund it next year. Some Republicans complain it is too costly and is an unnecessary intrusion by government into something Americans already do eagerly and in great numbers - helping their neighbors and communities.

The legislation provides for gradually increasing the size of the Clinton-era AmeriCorps to 250,000 enrollees from its current 75,000. It outlines five broad categories where people can direct their service: helping the poor, improving education, encouraging energy efficiency, strengthening access to health care and assisting veterans.

AmeriCorps offers a range of volunteer opportunities including housing construction, youth outreach, disaster response and caring for the elderly.


Thanks for all you do!
your values. Love your country.
And, remember: TOGETHER, We can make a DIFFERENCE!

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