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National service aids young people, the community

Recently, Rep. Charles Rangel asserted that he will propose a military draft measure this year. Whether or not it would pass, the discussion leads to an interesting and important topic in our society: mandatory service for America's young people.

After national disasters like 9/1 1 and Hurricane Katrina, the importance of AmeriCorps and national service in our communities has become more apparent than ever.

National service offers unparalleled opportunities for growth and education while instilling in young people a sense of pride in community and civic responsibility. A formidable list of national service programs exists, all of which attempt to cure some of the ills of society, such as poverty, hunger and education.

The service-learning activities facilitated by these organizations improve the community while providing immeasurable benefits to the young people engaging in them. A recent study conducted for the National Youth Leadership Council found that adults who engaged in volunteerism during their youth were more likely to be politically and socially connected to their communities, serve as role models for young adults, understand the importance of lifelong learning and engage in service.

Middle-class young people are struggling financially, and it is becoming more difficult to enter college. Perhaps a useful and valuable New Year's present to these youths would be the passage of the Summer of Service Act, introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

The act would offer a competitive grant program to national service programs. Students would be eligible for educational awards to help pay for college and would receive invaluable experience and exposure to structured adult life before beginning college.

Another gift to America's young people would be Sen. Hillary Clinton's and Sen. Arlen Specter's proposed U.S. Public Service Academy, which takes the notion of national service a step further. Similar to our military academies, the service academy would bring together students from across the country and engage them in service-learning activities while reinforcing the service culture with a specific academic curriculum. Graduates would be required to spend five years in public service.

A military draft may or may not be an answer. However, contributing to our communities through national service benefits everyone. Participating in service-learning activities enhances our ability to lead, help others and confront the challenges that face our nation.

Locally, the West Seneca Youth Bureau facilitates several national service programs, most of which include educational awards to be used toward tuition or student loans. Western New York young people are contributing to the community and gaining valuable experience and skills through AmeriCorps and national service. This opportunity should be afforded to everyone.

Mark P. Lazzara is executive director of the West Seneca Youth Bureau/AmeriCorps.

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