WASHINGTON — President Clinton inaugurated his national service program for youth Monday, swearing in thousands of young recruits across the country who will work in schools and hospitals and help clean up the environment.
The program, dubbed AmeriCorps, was approved by Congress last year to allow youths to earn college tuition or to pay off tuition loans by performing community service.
"Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty," Clinton told hundreds of recruits gathered on the White House lawn in a ceremony beamed by satellite to thousands of others.
"Every generation in our history has learned to take responsibility for our future and your generation is no exception."
The ceremony, attended by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and leading congressional sponsors of the national service legislation, was delayed several hours and later moved to the front of the White House from the larger South Lawn because of the crash of a small aircraft on the grounds of the Executive Mansion.
Fulfilling a key pledge of Clinton's presidential campaign, AmeriCorps is a domestic version of the Peace Corps, which was created by President John F. Kennedy, the chief executive whom Clinton most admires.
At Clinton's request, Congress approved $360 million to pay 20,000 Americans to work in the areas of health, education and human needs, public safety and the environment. Mostly in their late teens or early 20s, the recruits will be paid minimum wages and will receive health benefits and a $4,725 voucher for one year of work that can be used for college or vocational school tuition or to pay off a college loan. So that benefits may extend to as many as possible, recruits will be limited to two years' work.
Citing examples of the work that will be done, Clinton said that youths will be "saving babies in south Texas, walking police beats in Brooklyn, working on boats to reclaim the Chesapeake Bay . . . taking seniors safely to the doctor in St. Louis and helping children to read in Sacramento."
For most, their work "will mark the beginning of a journey that will change their lives forever--it will also change the life of this nation for many seasons to come," the President said.
Depending on the success of the initial program, the White House is asking Congress to appropriate $1.5 billion for a three-year program reaching 100,000 persons. Several months of pilot projects already have been completed.
The President paid tribute to the spirit of volunteerism and community service that has strengthened the nation. "Every one of you represents the oldest and best of America's traditions," he said.
* LOCAL VOLUNTEERS: The one thread uniting Southland participants is idealism. B1