'Summer Service' launched Baltimore-area members excited

June 21, 1993|By Jane Meredith Adams | Jane Meredith Adams,Contributing Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- A wildly enthusiastic crowd of 1,475 cheering, dancing, fist-waving young people from around the country -- from Los Angeles to an Indian reservation to Baltimore -- launched President Clinton's "Summer of Service" program in an outdoor rally here yesterday, vowing to rebuild their communities and the nation.

Their spirit for improving the country was so strong that during the opening day ceremony on Treasure Island Naval Station, participants from the Harlem Freedom Schools Project broke into raucous chanting: "We're fired up! We can't take it anymore!"

"You better be fired up," responded Warren Furutani, a Los Angeles community activist who was addressing the group. "It won't be easy."

Michelle Loucas, 21, of Fallston, viewed the high-energy scene while sitting on the shoulders of Shanile Shakoor, 20, of Baltimore. "It's fantastic," she said. "We want to start a chain reaction to service."

After a week of training on Treasure Island, participants will return to work in their communities for eight weeks, in exchange for minimum wage and a $1,000 education voucher to be used toward tuition or to pay an education loan.

Summer of Service is a trial run of the president's ambitious national service initiative, which cleared two key committees in the House and Senate last week. Like Summer of Service, the national service program, which has not yet been funded, does not start new projects but is designed to channel workers into existing projects in their own communities.

Critics of the president's national service initiative have balked at its $379 million cost for the first year, in which 15,000 people of all ages would participate and receive up to $5,000 a year in education vouchers for their work. By the fourth year, as many as 150,000 people would be enrolled in the program at a cost some estimate at $3.4 billion. All participants would receive minimum wage, health benefits and child-care service.

Summer of Service will cost nearly $9 million, from money already appropriated by Congress. The program includes 75 participants from Maryland who will work for MPower, a coalition of Maryland service organizations, including Baltimore's youth service corps. The participants, from ages 17 to 25, will tutor children, renovate the playground at Herring Run Middle School and build the Gwynn's Falls Greenway, a trail from the Inner Harbor to Gwynn's Falls.

As this first group of service corps members rallied on a military field on this naval station island in San Francisco Bay, many were coping with the double shock of being away from home and discovering that summer in San Francisco means a blanket of fog.

"I got off the airplane, and it was very cold," said Shawn Parker, 19, of Baltimore. He said he joined Summer of Service because "there's so much going on today. I want to direct the young people to a positive direction instead of a negative direction."

While the spirit of the Peace Corps and 1960s idealism was invoked, this gathering had many 1990s touches. The crowd was ethnically diverse, and some people gave pep-rally cheers in Spanish and English. All the participants wore white Gap sweat shirts, with the Summer of Service sunrise logo -- an emblem of the private-public partnerships the program seeks to form. And when Rear Adm. Merrill Ruck, in dress whites, was introduced as the host of the group on Treasure Island, he received boisterous applause.

Buoying the energy in the crowd were the amplified strains of the Santana song "Oyo Como Va," which turned the groups from 11 cities and regions around the country into a swaying mass.

"We've been called apathetic," said Pia Infante, a sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley who spoke to the group. "Give me a break."

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