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They're learning to help others

Published Oct. 9, 2005

The pay isn't great, but Alton Marcello expects to get more satisfaction helping immunize poor children than delivering pizza.

Marcello is one of 1,500 young men and women going through boot camp-style training this week for President Clinton's eight-week "Summer of Service" program. Clinton hopes it eventually will expand into a year-round national community-service program, with 100 times as many participants.

"Summer of Service" offers $4.25 an hour and $1,000 for school to those who will help poor children across the country.

"I could be earning twice as much delivering pizzas this summer," said Marcello, 20, of Los Angeles, who will help immunize children at hospitals in the city's low-income, largely minority South Central district.

But, Marcello added, "Growing up, seeing all these people in gangs and going to jail . . . I'd like to help them, help them lead healthier lives, maybe make a difference."

The group, from nine states, gathered at Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco Bay. Cool, gusty winds jostled them as they spent Monday morning playing games designed to teach teamwork and leadership skills.

Laughter, cheers and applause echoed around the grassy field. Some skipped rope together. Others set up an imaginary electrified fence and helped each other over it. Another team, blindfolded, maneuvered around a roped-off circle.

"The biggest thing we're trying to do is build a sense of community," said Dionne Brown, 20, of Bellefontaine, Ohio. "We're learning that one person is not always right or not always wrong."

This fledgling session is the prototype for Clinton's $7.4-billion community-service proposal, which awaits congressional approval. He hopes to have 25,000 people ages 17-25 involved in community service year-round by 1994 and as many as 150,000 by 1997.

Most of Clinton's jobs program was left in shambles when the Senate killed his $16-billion jobs-stimulus bill. The president still is struggling to get Congress to approve a $900-million program that would include $300-million for summer jobs for youths.

Clinton sent Vice President Al Gore to greet the trainees Monday. Gore drew frequent comparisons to other public service programs, like the Peace Corps.

"The concept of working together for the best interests of our nation is as old as the nation itself," he said.

"Together we are going to build the future of America."