Echoing his brother's call for Americans to ask what they can do for their country, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., added his contribution Tuesday to a growing list of bills advocating voluntary community service.
"The `me decade' is over," Kennedy told a room overflowing with youth already participating in a variety of community service programs nationwide. "The 1990s can be the decade when we rediscover the importance of giving something back to our country in return for all it has given us."Kennedy's remarks echoed those of his brother, John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address in 1961, when he urged Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Kennedy said his "Serve America" proposal would provide $100 million annually over five years for grants to educational institutions and community agencies to create or expand service opportunities for students in kindergarten through college.
The measure also would encourage summer youth corps programs, provide "Presidential Awards for Service" and require federal agencies to develop service opportunities for people of all ages.
Steve Wilburn, a senior at Martin Luther King High School in Philadelphia, told the crowd of his school's work helping elementary school students paint murals and cleaning shelters for the homeless. "The program has made us grow spiritually and has helped us grow and our community grow," he said.
Amy Miller, 11, of the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pa., told of her school's clothing and toy drives for the needy and its adopt-a-grandparent program.
Kennedy's bill is a basic volunteer program, unlike others that provide such incentives as tuition assistance.
A bill sponsored by Democratic Sens. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Charles Robb of Virginia would replace current student aid programs with a program involving student tuition or housing assistance in exchange for civilian or military service.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., modeled her plan on the National Guard. Participants would serve two weekends a month and two weeks during the summer in return for a $3,000 voucher for education or housing assistance for each year of service.
Kennedy said the Senate Labor and Human Relations Committee, which he chairs, will hold hearings on all of the bills beginning March 9.