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Community Service Gets a Federal Boost : AmeriCorps, Coming to Santa Ana, Helps Young People Do Well and Do Good

October 02, 1994

Two dozen young people are about to get the chance to do well by doing good in Santa Ana.

The 24 are members of AmeriCorps, the Clinton Administration's version of a domestic Peace Corps. The federally funded national program of community service is worth doing and has laudable goals: improving health and education, helping crack down on crime, taking care of those needing help.

Santa Ana-based Civic Center Barrio Housing Corp., a nonprofit organization founded 20 years ago to build and maintain low-income housing, will administer the AmeriCorps program locally, using 11 participants in Santa Ana and others in sites from Chula Vista to Santa Maria.

The corporation's president, Helen Brown, said all 24 started two days ago on a two-week training project, immunizing children against diseases and testing them for tuberculosis. After that the Santa Ana programs will include working with police in projects to fight gangs and drugs, and identifying people who need help with services such as child care and health care, after-school programs and English classes. The AmeriCorps members will also pair people with the agencies that can help them.

The volunteers are paid minimum wage, plus health care and, if needed, child care. They also receive $4,700 to pay for college tuition or vocational training or repay educational loans.

There are ample opportunities for good work in Santa Ana and, if the program is popular and is expanded, elsewhere in Orange County in future years. There are potential pitfalls, though. Taxpayers understandably are concerned about how their money is spent; concrete results can negate criticism of the type that was directed at community service programs of the past, namely that they spent money rashly, without results.

A pilot program for AmeriCorps found that volunteers, motivated at least as much by a chance to help communities as by money for college, can lose their enthusiasm quickly if their jobs turn out to be make-work projects. That must be avoided. Done properly, AmeriCorps will give dedicated young people a chance to help improve others' lives, and better their own as well.

Officials said 60,000 people across the country called to ask about signing up for the program, and 20,000 will take part in the first year. That is an impressive number and indicates a desire to do good from members of the sometimes maligned Generation X. Orange County youths helping their neighbors deserve applause, and a program that uses their talents well.

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