Clinton visits APG to celebrate AmeriCorps programs 'SEASON OF SERVICE'

September 12, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Twelve-year-old Jennifer Morgan of Aberdeen has a story to tell her classmates today -- and probably any of her future grandchildren.

Not only was the Aberdeen Middle School student an acolyte at a church service attended by President Clinton yesterday, she was photographed with him afterward by a White House staff member.

The president, accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, visited the Harford County military base to worship with 200 members of AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a new service program for 18- to-24-year-olds.

"When I was inaugurated president, I called America to a season of service, and I asked our young people to lead the way," the president told more than 300 worshipers at the Aberdeen Proving Ground chapel. "Thankfully, Congress has given us that opportunity, and they have responded with their responsibility in the national service program."

The NCCC is one of hundreds of AmeriCorps programs throughout the country that are being officially launched today with a ceremony at the White House and other sites. More than 20,000 volunteers will be sworn-in by the president in person and by satellite.

After the 10:15 a.m. Protestant service, Mr. Clinton couldn't resist the opportunity to shake hands and mingle with the congregants.

"I'm in awe of everything," said Janet Parker, a 1990 Joppatowne High School graduate, who is going to the White House ceremony with her parents. "It's like a domestic Peace Corps."

Ms. Parker is a volunteer at Perry Point Veterans Hospital in Cecil County.

The AmeriCorps program targets four areas of service: environment, education, human services and public safety.

The NCCC incorporates these goals and also includes housing for 1,000 volunteers at four locations around the country -- Denver, San Diego, Charleston, S.C., and the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG).

About 200 of the volunteers -- from 13 Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- are based at APG in Harford County. They started their service in mid-July.

"The dorms are sparse, the food is bad and the life is tough," said Don Mathis, campus director of NCCC at APG. "We are looking for people who want to serve -- and live ugly for a while."

But the conditions didn't stop thousands of prospective volunteers from applying to the yearlong program. "It is competitive," Mr. Mathis said. "We expect 10,000 applicants next year."

"I thought it would be a great way to serve the country and make it a better country," said Jarrettsville resident Lucy Sandoval, 23, who attended yesterday's church service.

The students receive a stipend of $8,000 a year for living expenses, housing and an educational stipend of $4,725 to further their schooling or pay college loans.

Miss Sandoval, a Harford Community College graduate, plans to use the money to continue her education at Loyola College, majoring in speech pathology. She is a volunteer at a therapeutic horse riding center in Howard County.

"If we didn't give them an allowance, then only the rich kids would serve," Mr. Mathis said. "The kids need to earn something."

The NCCC volunteers are serving not only in Maryland but other areas in the country. Assignments include digging trails at a park in Bel Air, harvesting crops at an Upper Marlboro farm to feed the homeless, working in inner city schools in Philadelphia and fighting forest fires in Idaho.

"There are such a mixture of people," Ms. Parker said. "My roommate is already my dearest friend."

Getting to see the president was an added bonus for the volunteers, dressed in gray uniform T-shirts. They cheered when he acknowledged them.

"A quiet, reticent group," joked Mr. Clinton when they finished clapping.

Matt Thorp of New Jersey, a Dartmouth College graduate who plans to go to medical school, managed to get even closer to the president. He was picked to sit in the front pew with Mr. Clinton.

But Sgt. Patricia Mansapit of the Aberdeen Proving Ground military company got the best seat -- right next to the president.

"He was very pleasant," she said. "He said I had a lovely singing voice."

It also was a day that Marsha Perkins of Havre de Grace and Delores and Samuel Gilliam of Aberdeen won't forget.

Mrs. Perkins, a choir member who turned 47 yesterday, received birthday greeting from the president.

The Gilliams were congratulated on the 43rd anniversary of their marriage.

"I guess I ought start by saying happy birthday and happy anniversary," Mr. Clinton said after the three had been singled out in announcements of special occasions by the church lay reader. "A commitment of 43 years is something the rest of the country could do more to imitate."

Most of the congregants didn't know the president was going to be attending the service until Saturday night or yesterday morning.

Joan Grant of Bel Air said she heard about the visit from a clerk at a local convenience store. "I didn't believe him," she said. "I guess I owe him an apology."

Her mother, Eunice Crowell of Aberdeen, who has been worshiping at the chapel for 36 years, said she didn't mind that she couldn't sit in her regular pew yesterday. "She did get an end pew, though," her daughter said.

Mr. Clinton is not the first head of state to visit the proving ground. President George Bush landed at an APG airfield before visiting nearby Riverside to unveil affordable housing legislation

in 1991.

But the last time a president made an official call was in 1949 when Harry S. Truman visited, APG officials said.

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