• To volunteer in your neighborhood, go to volunteer.gov. The Web site, run by the federal government, gives Americans a way to search for service opportunities within a ZIP code or state. • Ask religious leaders or faith-based organizations about ways to help others.
• Senior Corps, a government-run program, gives people 55 and older a chance to conduct safety patrols for local police departments, participate in environmental projects or help tutor children. To join, visit getinvolved.gov or call 800-424-8867. • Search for other opportunities through AARP’s Web site at aarp.org/createthegood.
• Ask your guidance counselor, principal or PTA about ways to help in the community.
College students and adults
• To join AmeriCorps, visit americorps.gov or call 800-942-2677.
Washington Tens of thousands of Americans, from teenagers to baby boomers, soon will get a fresh chance to lend a helping hand in a time of need.
The House voted 275-149 Tuesday for a $5.7 billion bill that triples positions in the Clinton-era AmeriCorps program, its largest expansion since the agency’s creation in 1993, and establishes a fund to help nonprofit organizations recruit and manage more volunteers. AmeriCorps offers a range of volunteer opportunities including housing construction, youth outreach, disaster response and caring for the elderly.
Congress was sending the bill to President Barack Obama, who often cites his years as a Chicago community organizer for giving him his political start. Obama has made national service programs a high priority. His budget proposal calls for more than $1.1 billion for the programs, an increase of more than $210 million.
The president, who began an eight-day European trip Tuesday, plans to sign the measure when he returns to Washington.
“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,” Obama said in a statement.
With the nation plunging deeper into a recession, Obama and backers of the effort see it as a way to channel a rising desire among Americans to help their neighbors.
“History has ... shown that in time of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit of generosity in the American people is one of the greatest assets of our nation,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said during debate on the bill.
Applications to AmeriCorps have exploded with the plunging employment market. Last month, there were 9,731 applications submitted to the AmeriCorps online system, more than triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008. In the AmeriCorps program, 75,000 people spend 10 months to a year helping build affordable homes or responding to disasters. Most receive an annual stipend of slightly less than $12,000.
Last year, more than 500 AmeriCorps members helped coordinate more than 200,000 Habitat for Humanity volunteers to build 1,700 new homes. Some AmeriCorps participants also helped families get ready for homeownership.
The bill provides for gradually increasing the size of AmeriCorps to 250,000 enrollees over eight years.
The legislation outlines five broad categories where people can direct their service: helping the poor, improving education, encouraging energy efficiency, strengthening access to health care and assisting veterans. People working in these new corps would provide such services as weatherizing homes or teaching computer skills to seniors or the unemployed.
The measure also encourages people to observe Sept. 11 as a national day of service and remembrance.