New US Commission Created to Sow Seed Of Local Self-Help
WHEN the City Volunteer Corps first began in 1984, Joyce Black recalls, a group of streetwise teenagers got together to paint the Staten Island Ferry. The old paddle wheeler got a facelift, and Ms. Black got a fresh outlook on voluntarism."Times have changed; kids are very different than they were in the 1970s and 1980s," says Black, who now heads New York State's Office for Voluntary Services. "This me-first stuff is going by the board." Black will soon have a chance to test her optimism in all 50 states. She is joining the National Community Service Commission, a 21-member body established by Congress to hand out seed money for pilot projects that could grow into a national service program. "We expect the commission to establish a pattern of grant giving that helps focus the nation's attention on the ability of local communities to solve their most serious social problems," says Gregg Petersmeyer, director of the White House Office of National Service. Signed into law in November, the National Community Service Act created the 21-member commission to hand out $55 million this year and a total of $180 million in two succeeding years, to encourage people of all ages to perform civic chores. The act embodied parts of several House and Senate proposals, according to Alden Schacher, aide to US Rep. Dave McCurdy (D) of Oklahoma, who co-sponsored a national service bill with Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia. The compromise bill that emerged from the Senate enjoyed strong bipartisan support. The names of the 21 commission nominees have been submitted to the United States Senate and 16 have so far been approved - enough to begin meeting to hire staff and start soliciting proposals in three broad areas, Sagawa said. m excited that these nominees have finally been announced, and I look forward to working with the commission," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, ranking minority member of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which must review the nominations. The committee chairman, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, said the nominations would be reviewed and sent to the Senate floor "as quickly as possible so the commission can begin its important work." Shirley Sagawa, a former Kennedy aide who helped draft the National Community Service Act, offered an insider's view of this rare bipartisan effort. "Both major parties thought it was their idea," said Ms. Sagawa, one of the 21 commission nominees. "You had the president with his 'Points of Light' approach, and people like Sam Nunn. Fortunately, all of the key thinkers came together." The first will involve students from kindergarten through college. Sagawa used the example of a Springfield, Mass., school in which children in the middle grades "adopt" senior citizens. The commission could also choose to fund proposals for state or local youth corps in which teenagers do community service in exchange for student or home loans, she said. Finally, the commission could solicit proposals for experimental programs. "One of the really great things about this is that some of the states are already coming up with ideas," Sagawa said. "Even if the federal money should disappear, once the programs begin they could take on a life of their own." Alan Khazei, another nominee to the National Service Commission, is co-founder of City Year, a privately-funded program that enables Boston teenagers to perform nine months of community work in exchange for a $5,000 public service award. "The thing that excites me most about this is the universal appeal," said Khazei, who began City Year in 1988 with a handful of volunteers. This year 600 teens applied for 100 volunteer spots.