WASHINGTON (AP) " The AmeriCorps program started by President Bill Clinton will triple in size over the next eight years, and tens of thousands of other Americans will soon see new opportunities to give back to their communities.
It's all part of a $5.7 billion national service bill President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign Tuesday to foster and fulfill people's desire to make a difference, such as by mentoring children, cleaning up parks or building and weatherizing homes for the poor.
Bolstering voluntary public service programs has been a priority of Obama, who credits his work as a community organizer in his early 20s for giving him direction in life.
The White House said Monday that the president "will call on people across the country to serve their communities and work together to tackle the nation's tough challenges."
Obama is set to visit the SEED School of Washington, a public boarding school that serves inner-city students facing problems in both the classroom and at home, for the signing ceremony.
Congress passed the bill last month with largely bipartisan support and Obama is seeking $1.1 billion to fund it next year. Some Republicans complain it is too costly and is an unnecessary intrusion by government into something Americans already do eagerly and in great numbers " helping their neighbors and communities.
The legislation provides for gradually increasing the size of AmeriCorps to 250,000 enrollees from its current 75,000. It outlines five broad categories where people can direct their service: helping the poor, improving education, encouraging energy efficiency, strengthening access to health care and assisting veterans.
AmeriCorps has seen a recent surge in applications, according to the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the program.
In March, the corporation received 17,038 online AmeriCorps applications, nearly double those received in the previous month and nearly triple the 6,770 received last March.
The bill also ties volunteer work to money for college.
People 55 and older could earn $1,000 education awards by getting involved in public service. Those awards can be transferred to a child, grandchild or even someone they mentored.
Students from sixth grade through senior year of high school could earn a $500 education award for helping in their neighborhoods during a new summer program.
The bill is named for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who, with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has been its champion. Kennedy, who is being treated for brain cancer, is expected to attend the signing.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Barrington Broadcasting is a member of the AP Network.