By LEONARD SPARKS
WASHINGTON (March 18, 2009) - A funk settled over Winnefred Frolik in 2004 as she grew worried about global warming, poverty and hunger.
But after graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, Frolik found a cure: a five-month stint as a parks volunteer in New Hampshire followed by three years volunteering with AmeriCorps.
"I decided, instead of feeling bad about everything, why don't I try and do something productive about it?" said the 28-year-old Silver Spring resident, who works with disabled adults in Rockville.
That spirit of doing is at the heart of a major rewrite of national volunteer programs approved by the House Wednesday, 321-105. The bill is called the GIVE Act—Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act—in the House. In the Senate it's known as the Serve America Act.
Legislators acting on President Obama's call for a rededication to service are enhancing programs, including those for disadvantaged youth, and adding veterans' service. They say the legislation will triple the number of AmeriCorps volunteers and reenergize a country dispirited by the flagging economy.
Supporters gathered outside the Capitol Wednesday to urge passage of the House version of the bill. Among them were key lawmakers and dozens of volunteers from around the region.
"He (Obama) has inspired another generation of Americans to do what John Kennedy asked all of us in my generation to do—to ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
"We can and we must recognize that spirit, help it grow and direct it toward the most productive outlets, especially now, when the talents and enthusiasm of Americans is essential to helping us end an economic crisis."
The bill's supporters estimate that it will more than triple—from 75,000 to 250,000—the number of volunteers with AmeriCorps, a national service program providing volunteers for constructing affordable housing, mentoring, tutoring and maintaining parks and streams, among other things.
The proposal also creates fellowships as an incentive for baby boomers and retirees to enter service and establishes a summer program that rewards middle- and high-school students who volunteer with $500 toward college.
The revamping also includes new service corps in four policy areas: improving access to health care, increasing graduation rates, improving services to veterans and promoting energy efficiency and conservation.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., expects the full Senate to vote on its version next week.
"We have the makings of really getting something done," Mikulski said.
California Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said the legislation builds a "continuum of care."
"We know what service to America means. We know what AmeriCorps means. We know what the Conservation Corps means," Miller said. "In fact, they showed up at Katrina before the government. They came to the Iowa floods this last year and gave over 800,000 hours of volunteer time."
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat who is the bill's chief sponsor, predicted that the proposal would unite communities if approved.
"People are going to get to know each other," she said. "They're going to get to know their neighbors better."
Retired Army Capt. Scott Quilty, who lost his right arm and leg to an explosion in Iraq, said the support he received from volunteers "saved my life."
The New Hampshire native is now U.S. programs manager for the Washington, D.C.,-based Survivor Corps, whose work includes peer support for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I know firsthand that no one survives alone," Quilty said. "Service doesn't have to end when we hang up the uniform."
For Frolik, service did not end after the parks assignment, despite the mosquitoes and the bronchitis she fought the first week on the job.
AmeriCorps placed her with YMCA Youth and Family Services in Montgomery County from 2007 to 2008. She now works with the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes in Rockville, where she assists adults with developmental disabilities.
The work brings her in contact with "amazing people," Frolik said.
"It gives you a greater sense of community," she said. "More of a perspective that we're all in this together—that it's not just about you."
Capital News Service reporter Maren Wright contributed to this report.