At UM, Clinton promotes service

HIGH PRAISE FOR STUDENTS

September 01, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- President Clinton came to Maryland yesterday to honor high school and college students who offered the country a Summer of Service, praising them for their efforts to "build a new American community."

The young people spent the summer immunizing children in South Texas, rebuilding playgrounds in Newark and cleaning streams in Baltimore, among other projects. In return, they earned money to help pay for college.

"I hope that we'll see it repeated hundreds of thousands of times . . . and I hope it will become a permanent part of American life," Mr. Clinton told some 80 participants from around the country who gathered at the University of Maryland.

"If it does, the whole country will be stronger," he said.

The president's visit highlighted his proposal for a more ambitious national public service program, which is expected to win final congressional approval next week. The program, which will cost $1.5 billion over three years, will allow 100,000 students to defray some of their college costs through two-year stints of community service.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Clinton proposed a federal program that would have allowed students to work off their tuition bills through public service. Congress significantly reduced his original proposal for $9.5 billion over five years, but Mr. Clinton is nonetheless poised to deliver on one of his campaign promises.

Participants will earn $4,725 a year to be applied to their college bills. They also will earn a stipend and receive health insurance and child care benefits. White House officials say the program will rely for the most part on community service programs that exist nationally.

The administration established this year's pilot Summer of Service project to demonstrate the potential of such programs. Some 1,500 young people between the ages of 17 and 25 took part in summer projects through 16 programs across the country, including Baltimore. About 75 students participated in Maryland.

Several of the students who gathered yesterday at College Park described for the president their hard-won successes.

In Philadelphia, for example, an immunization program was planned and established, but nobody came. Volunteers went out into the community to spread the word about the project, and parents swarmed in for shots for their children.

In New York, a tutoring program nearly collapsed because of the fees that local school officials said they would charge for meals. Organizers found volunteers at a nearby senior citizens center to prepare the food instead.

"If every American did what you did for the last two months," Mr. Clinton said, "if we all could do that for several years, we could revolutionize our country."

The president, looking tanned and relaxed from his recent vacation, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and talked with the service participants for nearly two hours.

The president said the College Park visit brought back 30-year-old memories of his participation in a national program highlighted by his well-documented introduction to President John F. Kennedy.

Among the participants yesterday was Mary John, who has been working in a service project in Baltimore recruiting volunteer mentors to work with troubled youths through the state's Department of Juvenile Services. Ms. John, a 24-year-old Coppin State College graduate, said she has matched more than 20 mentors with teen-agers.

The experience has been rewarding, she said, introducing her to a new world. It has also been frustrating, she added, in getting potential mentors through the complicated approval process.

Ms. John said she may apply her tuition credits to law school.

Several state officials, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer, were in the audience for the discussion. Mr. Clinton politely recognized Mr. Schaefer, a fellow Democrat who made headlines last fall with his 11th-hour endorsement of Republican George Bush in the presidential race.

By contrast, Mr. Clinton enthusiastically referred to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. as "my good friend."

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