Students nationwide clamor to serve

February 15, 1994|By Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- Laura Ferran, a 16-year-old high school student in Albany, N.Y., is trying to dig up all of the money she can to pay her way through college. So she wrote the Corporation for National Service, President Clinton's new national service program.

"My mother is doing her best and I'm applying to every scholarship program I can find," Ms. Ferran wrote. "It's just not enough," she wrote, noting that her widowed mother already is trying to help her brother through law school.

"I am determined, energized and willing -- all I need is a little help to afford my goals," said Ms. Ferran, who noted that she has been a community volunteer since age 11.

Ms. Ferran is among thousands of would-be college students and graduates ringing phones off the hooks and flooding mailboxes at the National Service headquarters in Washington. They are competing for what probably will be a hard-to-come-by financial aid ticket from a program that hasn't even officially started taking applications.

Eli Segal, who was chief of staff for Mr. Clinton's presidential campaign, is chief executive officer of the program. He said his office has received 10,000 phone calls for the program, which is officially titled AmeriCorps, without any advertising.

The new, all-volunteer youth army for community service will debut in September, when 20,000 college students are unleashed to help out in AIDS hospices, child literacy programs and the like as a way to fund their own college or vocational training.

With more than 3 million college students nationwide and only 20,000 slots available, jousting for a place could be intense.

The small start-up agency also is being flooded with proposals from community service organizations wanting to take on volunteers.

As part of AmeriCorps, students who work full-time will earn a minimum wage plus $4,725 a year to apply to college tuition or outstanding college loans. Part-timers will earn half that. Application procedures and deadlines for student applicants are still being worked out.

"We're not looking for students with the best grade-point average," Mr. Segal said. "We're looking for those who are the most committed and who are willing to serve."

Mr. Segal said no one is excluded from the program because of family income, which is often the case with government-funded college financial aid. Even indebted college graduates are eligible to pay off their financial aid by working in AmeriCorps.

Mr. Clinton has proposed increasing National Service's budget to $575 million in 1995 from the current initial funding of $300 million. Mr. Segal said that with increased funding, the program hopes to accept 33,000 volunteers by 1995 and 100,000 by 1996.

AmeriCorps is much smaller than Mr. Clinton initially proposed last year, but Mr. Segal said the program's size will give it the chance to prove itself before the Clinton administration asks Congress for more money.

"Hopefully we'll be held to a high standard and show we're getting things done. We're going to let our good works stand for themselves," he said.

AmeriCorps will launch a small nine-week pilot program this summer called Summer of Safety, aimed at problems of crime and violence.


* Who's eligible? All citizens and legal aliens ages 17 and older; for programs targeted at out-of-school youths, applicants may be 16 years old. In general, applicants should have a high school diploma or a GED.

* How to apply: No applications yet; for information call 1-800-94A-CORPS. Financial ability is not a criterion for determining eligibility.

* Commitment: Full-time 1,700 hours over nine months to a year. Part-time 900 hours over one to two years, or one to three years for full-time college students.

* Services performed: Nonprofit and local government organizations that address education, public safety, environment and human needs.

* Compensation: Minimum wage, plus a $4,725 education award each year for college or vocational training or repayment of student loans. Part-timers get half that amount. Full-time participants will be eligible for basic health insurance and a child-care allowance.

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