California rally starts 'Summer of Service'

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

SAN FRANCISCO -- A wildly enthusiastic crowd of 1,47 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 at 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 at 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, 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.

"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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