- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

ATLANTA
Nearly one year after President Bush asked Americans to join the war on terrorism, volunteers have signed up with the USA Freedom Corps the umbrella for AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps, the Peace Corps and the Citizens Corps.
Citizens Corps, the entity Mr. Bush created to focus on homeland security, is just getting under way. Citizen Corps volunteers will be trained to respond to disasters and help take the burden off public safety workers.
Mr. Bush's subsequent push for Americans to donate two years or 4,000 hours to community service has helped keep interest in volunteerism high.
One of the new recruits is Reginald Johnson, a husky 47-year-old Augusta, Ga., native with a ready smile and an engaging life story.
Two years ago, Mr. Johnson's drug-and-alcohol addiction left him homeless. But, with the help of the Homeless Task Force in Augusta, he has kicked his habits and now works with young people at Augusta Urban Ministries.
"In order for me to help my country, I've got to start somewhere," Mr. Johnson said. "I feel I owe something. I've finally gotten my life straightened out and I feel the only way I can say thank you is to try to help someone else."
Like other AmeriCorps volunteers, Mr. Johnson receives a living allowance of about $800 a month. At the end of the 10-month service period, he will receive a $4,725 education award, which he plans to use at a technical college in Augusta to learn a skill.
Kaevonda Smith had graduated from college and was working on an administrative career at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., when she decided to dedicate a couple of years to community service.
Last year, the 25-year-old South Carolina native volunteered at Inner Harbour, a local program for troubled children and teens. She enjoyed it so much that when her stint ended last summer, she signed up for 10 more months.
"It made me proud when the president stepped up and asked Americans to serve," she said.
The president wants to increase the number of AmeriCorps volunteers in 2003 to 75,000, up from 60,000 this year. Even if he is successful, there are no assurances funds will be available to give volunteers a $9,300 living allowance and an education award, which Mr. Bush has proposed raising.
A $515 million funding package for Freedom Corps programs for fiscal 2003 has not been approved by Congress. The funding represents a $115 million increase over 2002.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the volunteer programs, doesn't expect the measure to have a vote before January, when newly elected Republican lawmakers take office.
Since the appropriations measure is part of a $122 billion package that includes funding for Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and because Congress will be controlled by Republicans, Freedom Corps proponents believe it is unlikely the volunteer programs will go unfunded. But the amount of funding remains a question.
Meanwhile, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) has filed a lawsuit demanding that funding be removed from three AmeriCorps programs that place volunteers in Catholic schools.
Although AmeriCorps volunteers work in other religious programs, such as Augusta Urban Ministries, the AJC limited its lawsuit to the three Catholic programs, saying the volunteers are teaching religion. AmeriCorps counters that volunteers are serving primarily as tutors, so they see no conflict.
"While the lawyers fight it out, we're going to keep doing what we do," said Leslie Lenkowsky, chief executive officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service. "We are very confident that our program falls within the constitutional and legal requirements."
A bigger threat to the success of Freedom Corps programs may come from a downturn in interest.
"Things that are either natural disasters or man-made disasters have provoked a great response," said Jeffrey Brudney, co-director of the Institute for Nonprofit Organizations at the University of Georgia in Athens. "But they do taper off over time.
"One reason it's hard to gauge what September 11 has wrought is that sustained volunteerism requires a lifestyle change," he said. "It will take about two years to know for sure."


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