COLLEGE PARK – President Clinton called on a cheering University of Maryland crowd Wednesday to join in national service and help recruit more than 50,000 volunteers for the AmeriCorps program next year.
At an event that often represented a pep rally, the president asked the crowd of 1,600 — most of whom were students and AmeriCorps volunteers — to “help me reach out to others.”
“Take advantage and use this moment to [show that you are] not a generation of cynics and slackers, but instead a generation of doers and patriots,” Clinton said.
His speech was the kickoff of a yearlong “Call to Service” initiative aimed at boosting participation in AmeriCorps, which has been called a sort of domestic Peace Corps.
The yearlong initiative includes a college campus tour, a public service announcement produced by MTV, print ads and a direct mailing to 40,000 graduating high school seniors. The campaign features the theme, “AmeriCorps: Are You Up to the Challenge?”
It was Clinton’s second visit to the College Park campus in connection with the AmeriCorps program. It was there that he first unveiled the Corporation for National Service, which includes AmeriCorps, in 1993.
Since then, AmeriCorps has recruited more than 100,000 members. It currently has 40,000 members serving in 4,000 communities across the country.
The program enrolls people over age 18 to perform service work for a year in exchange for a below-minimum-wage salary and a $4,275 educational award for college or to pay off student loans. Most participants are between the ages of 20 to 25.
Clinton’s fiscal 2000 budget asks for a 25 percent increase — $113 million — in funding for AmeriCorps programs. The increases would help expand the program to 100,000 members by 2002. It also includes funding for up to 5,000 high school students to participate in AmeriCorps programs for the first time, part-time in the school year or full-time in the summer.
Maryland has 1,700 AmeriCorps members this year operating 59 programs around the state.
“We’re showing young people and the young at heart across the nation that they have an opportunity to change the world,” said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Clinton thanked Townsend and Gov. Parris Glendening during the event for helping “make Maryland a leading state” for citizen service. He noted that Townsend led the effort to make community service a high school graduation requirement in Maryland, the only state to have such a requirement.
Glendening said that AmeriCorps work on such things as cleaning alleys in Baltimore City has proven to be an asset to the AmeriCorps members and the community.
“We must be a compassionate, concerned and engaged community (in the 21st century) and that’s what this program does,” Glendening said. “Maryland’s program and its young people are up to the challenge.”
Maryland AmeriCorps member Justin Ward, 22, of Churchville, told Clinton and the audience that “the rewards of service were greater than the rewards of the paycheck” he gets as a volunteer coordinator for Harford County’s Habitat for Humanity.
Clinton’s appearance included a pep rally introduction complete with the University of Maryland Pep Band and an AmeriCorps step-dance squad. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s County, presented Clinton with a Terrapins jersey before the event, said University of Maryland President Dan Mote.
He praised the participation of the students and volunteers in AmeriCorps.
“We’re fortunate to have students who understand that the real value of education is measured through service,” Mote said.