October 20, 1999

When Robert Kennedy was a member of the U.S. Senate, he spoke to a group of college students in South Africa. What he said is as important today as it was then:

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

This week at the White House, in celebration of the fifth anniversary of AmeriCorps, the President and I were joined by Sargent Shriver, Colin Powell, Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt and Coretta Scott King to honor 21 Americans who have sent out ripples of hope -- ripples that are breaking down barriers and raising up lives. They are graduates of AmeriCorps, and these are some of their stories:

While serving with the Idaho Immunization Project, Christine Packer helped launch a statewide effort that boosted the immunization rate for 2-year-olds from 50 to 70 percent, and drew her to a career in public health. A lawyer in Los Angeles, Lin Min Kong helped low-income residents of run-down public housing projects purchase their buildings and renovate them into safe and affordable housing.

Marine Corps veteran James Boland worked with the National Collaboration for Homeless Veterans in West Haven, Conn., to develop mentoring, family and crisis programs in the very facility that had helped him 12 years earlier when he was a homeless and addicted vet. Working with other AmeriCorps members and in collaboration with victims' advocates, social service and law enforcement, Tera Oglesby developed the Seattle Police Department's first victim-support team, offering a range of emergency and long-term services for victims of crime and abuse.

During her first year with AmeriCorps, Byrnadett Frerker developed Literacy Avengers, a computer literacy development program for middle-schoolers, who in turn taught the skills to their parents. In her second year, Byrnadett worked with the Safety Service Corps Emergency Response Team, providing disaster relief to families and communities in the wake of wildfires in Florida, a hurricane in Mississippi, floods in Missouri and, most recently, Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina. On the South Side of Chicago, Mark Payne recruited young African-American males to volunteer and serve as role models for others in their neighborhood.

And as an 18-year-old volunteer in Pine Island, Minn., Jason Lupeituu knew he wanted to provide a safe and stable place for young people to feel accepted and have the chance to develop their hopes, dreams and goals for the future. Working with local youth, he raised the start-up funding to turn an old laundromat into the youth center of his dreams, Pine Island Union of Youth, Inc.

Whenever you hear negative stories about today's young people, I hope you'll remember these men and women. They represent just a fraction of the 150,000 dedicated Americans who have served their country since 1994 when the President swore in the first AmeriCorps class. Working in more than 4,000 communities across the country, they have tutored and mentored more than 4 million children, developed after-school programs for more than a million young people, helped build more than 11,000 homes, and recruited more than 2 million volunteers.

Not only have AmeriCorps members changed the communities they've worked in for the better -- sending ripples of hope across America -- they've earned money for college and learned important lessons about themselves in the process. According to Andre Crisp, a 19-year-old second-year Corps member who spoke at the White House this week, "It's a chance to push yourself past limitations and to do what you never knew you could do."

Controversial when my husband first proposed it, AmeriCorps has won the enthusiastic support of leaders across the political spectrum. When asked about AmeriCorps at the National Governors Association conference last month, Colin Powell said, "It is a tremendous investment in young people, a tremendous investment in the future."

Montana Gov. Marc Racicot concurs: "When AmeriCorps was created, some feared it might replay the worst of the welfare state -- an entrenched, expensive, Washington-run program. Many feared, even more, that it would undermine traditional volunteers with yet another federal program. I can say from experience that the fears were misplaced.I am convinced national and community service promotes core values -- hard work, self-discipline, civic duty, personal responsibility -- that we too often sadly find lacking."

When my husband was elected in 1992, he struck a deal with the American people -- to create a government that would give them the tools to solve their own problems and live their own dreams. This is what AmeriCorps is all about. This is why we support it. And this is why we salute it on this, its fifth anniversary.

For more information about the fifth anniversary of AmeriCorps, you can visit this web site:

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