Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps which recruited over four million young people and provided billions of dollars worth of support to communities. Through 11 years of the Great Depression, CCC members restored the nation’s parks, revitalized the economy, enabled millions of families to live in dignity, and developed new skills to support themselves and their families. Inspired by the CCC model, over a thousand AmeriCorps* National Civilian Community Corps members are at work today on special urban and rural projects.
In the 1960s, the call to service came from President John F. Kennedy who challenged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This strong spirit of citizenship inspired the Peace Corps. Today, thousands of young Peace Corps volunteers travel far and wide to connect America with the world through peaceful service efforts, such as building schools to promote literacy, helping farmers provide food for the hungry, and setting up hospitals to care for the sick. After returning from overseas, Peace Corps volunteers put their new knowledge to work at home, changing America for the better.
VISTA and the National Senior Service Corps
The 1960s also saw the birth of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) which organizes efforts to help low-income citizens and communities mobilize efforts to address their challenges. One initiative to engage older Americans in service grew into the National Senior Service Corps, which now includes the Foster Grandparents Program, the Senior Companion Program, and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.
National & Community Service Trust Act
President Bill Clinton sponsored the National and Community Service Trust Act which was passed and signed into law on September 21, 1993. The legislation created a new federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), to administer federally-funded national service programs. The law created AmeriCorps, which was designed to support local, state, and national organizations across the nation that involve Americans in results-driven community service.
Revival of Interest in National and Community Service
President George H. W. Bush helped spark a revival of interest in national service when he instituted the White House Office of National Service in 1989. In 1990 Congress passed the National and Community Service Act, which created a Commission on National and Community Service that sought to “renew the ethic of civic responsibility in the United States.” Full implementation began in 1992, when the commission awarded $64 million in grants to support four broad types of state and local community service efforts. These initiatives were the Serve-America programs (formerly Learn and Serve) which involved school-aged youth in community service and service-learning through a variety of school and community-based activities; Higher Education Innovative Projects aimed at involving college students in community service and at promoting community service at educational institutions; American Conservation and Youth Service Corps, supporting summer and year-round youth corps initiatives that engage both in- and out-of-school youth in community service work; and the National and Community Service Demonstration Models, for programs that were potential models for large-scale national service.
National Service Today
On March 31, 2009 the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act was passed. This bill focuses on significantly expanding and improving opportunities for utilizing National Service to meet specific national challenges. Pressing challenges such as tackling the dropout crisis and strengthening our schools; improving energy efficiency; safeguarding the environment; improving health care in low-income communities; expanding economic opportunities for low-income individuals; and preparing for and responding to disasters and emergencies.
President Obama, reflecting on the passage of the new legislation said “Our work is not finished when I sign this bill into law – it has just begun. It is up to each of us to seize this opportunity, to do our part to lift up our fellow Americans, to realize our own true potential. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country.”
In October 2016, National Service reached an incredible milestone for our nation. Since its launch in 1994, over one million men and women have joined AmeriCorps.