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Thousands answer the call to volunteer


By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – While the young and unemployed search for their life's calling, many are listening to President Obama's call to volunteer. Now, the president is poised to sign new legislation that would add incentives to serving. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales caught up with some of these new service volunteers at the Grand Canyon, where a similar effort began 76 years ago.

SFX: pounding of hammers

The south rim trail of the Grand Canyon is one of the most well traveled trails in the country. As a result stretches of it have eroded away and become dangerous. But not for much longer, thanks to a crew of a dozen 20-somethings. Dressed in dusty steel toe boots and hard hats they chisel and hammer away at large limestone rocks that line the trail. It's tough work but you can't beat the view.

They sit on the edge of the canyon to take a lunch break and introduce themselves

CREW: I'm Megan and I'm from Michigan. My name's Wes and I'm from Oregon I'm Jennifer North Carolina. I'm Taylor from Nevada.

Brian Miner is from Massachusetts and took a service job after graduating from college with a degree in music education.

MINER: I worked for a while as a substitute teacher then I decided to take a summer job that got me outside. So I started working for the Maine Conservation Corps and I loved it. I think I have the best corner office in the world!

The rim trail was originally built in the 1930s by a similar group called the Civilian Conservation Corps. (FADE OUT AMBY) President Franklin Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the CCC to provide work for those unemployed by the Great Depression.

ARCHIVAL TAPE OF FDR: Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. (FADE OUT)

In the thirties welfare agencies selected the neediest men to be on the corps. The original CCC was closed in 1942, but it became a model for state agencies that opened in the 1970s. Today, young men and women apply to the corps for different reasons - many needing work, many unable to afford college and many inspired by President Obama's call to service.

It not only helps get young people to work it helps out federal agencies, as Grand Canyon National Park's Kevin Dowell points out.

DOWELL: A lot of work got done in the national parks back in the 30s when we had a similar economic recession. And it's work that's needed to be done for decades. The park service has a maintenance backlog in the billions of dollars.

Members of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps - or C-REC -- not only construct trails, but also build roads, thin forests, control erosion and restore animal habitat. The corps members only get paid a small cost of living allowance but say the training is invaluable. Patrick Kelly joined the corps when he was in college a few years ago.

KELLY: I was going to school and I had no idea what I was going to school for. I had a lot of fun when I was younger really didn't know what I wanted to do in life and it really pushed me into a career that I find meaningful. I've worked in factories. I've worked changing oil worked on cars I've done just about everything. Every day waking up you don't mind waking up and going to work that should be what it's about.

Kelly has worked his way up the ranks of the corps. It gave him the training he needed to work with other federal agencies.

KELLY: When I worked for the forest service, we would hire from the conservation corps as much as possible because we knew we were going to get the quality workers what kind of caliber of people we were going to get.

C-REC project manager Dustin Woodman says Kelly is a corps success story.

And Woodman hopes to create more success stories. The Coconino Rural Environment Corps stands to benefit from the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which would triple the number of AmeriCorps positions over the next eight years. Woodman has also applied for federal stimulus money that he hopes will double the size of their job creation and job training programs.

WOODMAN: At our local level we're able to provide jobs and job training for people impacted by the recessionary climate so they can either further their career goals or perhaps learn new skills help that can take them in a new direction that will help them in their personal recovery and in our regional econ recovery as well.

Senior field operations coordinator Tom Helmer says lately the demand for corps positions has skyrocketed.

HELMER: We had two openings for our may program and we had 42 people apply for those two openings. Usually we have maybe 5 or 10 folks apply. Looking at the app it's all dif kinds of backgrounds just folks looking for a job right now. I finally had to close the app for those two spots this past Friday and it kind of broke my heart it felt awful.

Helmer hopes he can call some of those people back for the new jobs they plan to create. C-REC hopes to hear as early as next month whether they'll be awarded some of the stimulus funding.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales at Grand Canyon.