Americorps builds youth a bridge to U

Chris Vetter

Trieu Nguyen was new to Minneapolis last year and wanted to learn more about his new community. Nguyen got that opportunity — and earned money to attend the University at the same time — by working in the Americorps program.
Nguyen, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, tutored junior high students and worked in an after-school program called Funstop through his participation in Americorps. President Clinton started Americorps in 1993 to provide jobs for potential college students who might not otherwise have the funding to attend school.
People who join Americorps work an average of 40 hours a week for one year. Their jobs range from cleaning parks and painting houses to working with children and senior citizens. “This is not easy work,” said Mary Rivard of the Minnesota Commission on National and Community Service, which runs Minnesota’s Americorps program.
Participants are paid $625 per month, and receive a $4,725 educational award towards college tuition or college loans upon completion of the year. The award goes directly to the student’s college in the form of a tuition voucher.
The program is funded with both federal and state dollars.
People who join Americorps are usually between the age of 17 and 26, and most have a high school diploma, Rivard said. This program helps high school graduates grow into people who will help their communities, Rivard said. “They are going to be active, productive adults,” she said.
About 450 participants in the Americorps program from around the state will converge on the Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis today to celebrate the beginning of the program’s third year. The volunteers will beautify the neighborhood by cleaning graffiti off walls, refurbishing alleys and collecting trash.
About 5,000 people participated in Americorps nationally this year, and Clinton has promoted raising an “army” of Americorps volunteers to end illiteracy among 8-year-olds by the year 2000 during his re-election campaign.
Some in government have accused the Americorps program of being nothing more than Clinton public relations, however. The program has been attacked as wasteful and unnecessary by many conservatives in government, and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has pledged to cut the program as part of his promise to scale back the federal government during his presidential campaign.
Nguyen said the program provided him with tuition money and a chance to meet new people. “It’s a fun and safe environment for kids to develop personal interaction skills,” Nguyen said.
The program encourages people to volunteer in their neighborhoods and care about keeping the community safe and clean, said Byron Johnson, a former Americorps participant who graduated from CLA in June.
“The program gives opportunities to people involved in the community, but also to others who live in the community,” Johnson said.
Of course, the tuition dollars don’t hurt either.
“In a time of reduced financial aid and higher tuition, this is a nice program for these students,” Rivard said.
Johnson said he used the award to pay off his college loans.
Rivard said the kickoff day Friday was chosen to create awareness of the program and for people to “recognize the important work we’ll do all year.”
Johnson said he would sign up for the program again if he had the chance. “I highly recommend it to anyone,” he said.