Skip to main content
Labor and Economic Opportunity

The History of National Service

National Service has long played an important role in American history. Over the years it has grown into a movement that boasts over 85,000 active, enrolled members annually, and engages thousands of additional Americans in service in their local communities. With the introduction of President Bush's USA Freedom Corps , these numbers drastically increased over several years. 

The early roots of National Service can be traced back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Civilian Conservation Corps  (NCCC). The NCCC was started in the 1930's to provide financially struggling young men the chance to earn income by providing a variety of public services, such as repairing public roads or clearing forests.

In the 1960's, President John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps  on the steps of the University of Michigan's student union. Since that time, the Peace Corps has provided committed Americans from all walks of life the opportunity to act as ambassadors of good will in other areas of the world by providing support in local community building efforts.

In the 1960's as well, President Lyndon Johnson launched Volunteers in Service to America  (VISTA).  VISTA was created as a domestic version of the Peace Corps that placed Americans in some of the poorest communities in the country to provide support in meeting local needs.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed AmeriCorps  into legislation and the first AmeriCorps programs were launched the following year. President Clinton also created the Corporation for National and Community Service  (CNCS) to act as an umbrella over all AmeriCorps programs nationally. At this time, VISTA and the NCCC were brought under the supervision of CNCS.

In 1997, America's Promise  was spearheaded by General Colin Powell at the President's Summit for America's Future as a way to help communities assure local youth were provided access to the Five Promises needed to become successful and happy individuals. The AmeriCorps Promise Fellows program was also placed under the supervision of CNCS.

In 2001, President Bush created the USA Freedom Corps . The Freedom Corps calls for an increase in the size and scope of AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, and also called for the creation of a Citizen Corps to focus on local support when emergencies arise. These three branches of National Service fell under the supervision of the USA Freedom Corps at the federal level and work together to provide all Americans the opportunity to make a difference in their local communities. 

On March 31, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed  The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act . This action demonstrated a renewed commitment and call for citizens to rebuild our nation's foundation through service.

Through this legislation the number of AmeriCorps members will increase from 75,000 to 250,000 by the year 2017, creating increased opportunities for volunteers to participate in much needed efforts that focus on education, clean energy, veterans, economic opportunity, and other national priorities. Additionally, age and income eligibility issues that once presented challenges to older Americans considering service will be addressed. And, the tragic events of September 11 will not be forgotten as this day will be heralded as a day of national service. Further, through the development and implementation of the Social Innovation Fund and other fiscal measures, nonprofits will receive valuable and skilled resources to help each of us complete many of the tasks that lie ahead.