History of National Service

When faced with challenges, our nation has always relied on the dedication and action of citizens. The AmeriCorps agency (also known as the Corporation for National and Community Service) carries on a long tradition of citizen involvement by providing opportunities for Americans of all ages to improve their communities through service.


In “The Moral Equivalent of War,” American philosopher William James envisions non-military national service: "instead of military conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years as a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out and numerous other goods of the commonwealth would follow."
Through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, millions of young people serve terms of six to 18 months to help restore the nations' parks, revitalize the economy, and support their families and themselves.
The GI Bill, officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, is created, linking service and education and offering Americans educational opportunity in return for service to their country.



The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Foster Grandparent Program, and the Senior Companion Program are developed to engage older Americans in the work of improving the nations.
President John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps, with authorizing legislation approved by Congress on September 22, 1961. President Kennedy says, "The wisdom of this idea is that someday we'll bring it home to America."
As part of the "War on Poverty," President Lyndon B. Johnson creates VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a National Teacher Corps, the Job Corps, and University Year of Action. VISTA provides opportunities for Americans to serve full-time to help thousands of low-income communities.



The Youth Conservation Corps engages 38,000 people ages 14 to 18 in summer environmental programs.
California Governor Jerry Brown establishes the California Conservation Corps, the first non-federal youth corps at the state level.
The Young Adult Conservation Corps creates a small conservation corps with 22,500 participants ages 16 to 23.



National service efforts are launched at the grassroots level, including the Campus Outreach Opportunity League (1984) and Campus Compact (1985), which help mobilize service programs in higher education; the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (1985), which helps replicate youth corps in states and cities; and Youth Service America (1985), through which many young people are given a chance to serve.
President George H.W. Bush creates the Office of National Service in the White House and the Points of Light Foundation to foster volunteering.



Congress passes, and President George H.W. Bush signs, the National and Community Service Act of 1990. The legislation authorizes grants to schools to support service-learning and demonstration grants for national service programs to youth corps, nonprofits, and colleges and universities.
President Bill Clinton signs the National and Community Service Trust Act on September 21, creating AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service to expand opportunities for Americans to serve their communities. VISTA becomes part of AmeriCorps. State service commissions are established in states where they do not currently exist.
Congress passes the King Holiday and Service Act, charging the Corporation for National and Community Service with taking the lead in organizing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day of service.
The first class of AmeriCorps members begins serving in more than 1,000 communities. During their swearing in, President Bill Clinton says, "Service is a spark to rekindle the spirit of democracy in an age of uncertainty […] when it is all said and done, it comes down to three simple questions: What is right? What is wrong? And what are we going to do about it? Today you are doing what is right — turning your words into deeds."
A study commissioned by the IBM Foundation, the Charles A. Dana Foundation, and the James Irvine Foundation finds that every federal dollar invested in AmeriCorps results in $1.60 to $2.60 or more in direct, measurable benefits to AmeriCorps members and the communities they serve.
The Presidents' Summit for America's Future, chaired by General Colin Powell, brings together President Bill Clinton; former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter; and former First Lady Nancy Reagan to recognize and expand the role of AmeriCorps and other service programs in meeting the needs of America's youth.
AmeriCorps expands by introducing the Education Awards Program, which allows more organizations to join the service network, including nonprofits, faith-based organizations, colleges and universities, welfare-to-work programs, and other groups.
President Bill Clinton and former President George H.W. Bush announce the resumption of the Daily Points of Light Award.
In September, the fifth class of AmeriCorps members is sworn in, bringing the total number of current and former members to more than 100,000.
In October, AmeriCorps celebrates five years and 150,000 members. General Colin Powell, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, Coretta Scott King, and Sergeant Shriver join President Bill Clinton at the White House honoring the winners of the first All AmeriCorps awards.



In June, the Foster Grandparent Program recognizes its 35th anniversary. As the Senior Companion Program enters its 26th year of service, and RSVP looks ahead to its 30th birthday in 2001, the three National Senior Service Corps programs engage more than 500,000 adults ages fifty-five and older in sharing their time and talents to help meet local community needs.
In October, AmeriCorps VISTA commemorates 35 years of fighting poverty in America. Since 1965, more than 130,000 VISTA members have used a hands-on, grassroots approach to empower individuals and communities throughout the country. With this year's AmeriCorps class, funded with 2000 appropriations, more than 200,000 individuals will have served in AmeriCorps since 1994.
In response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush creates the USA Freedom Corps. During his State of the Union address, he calls upon every American to commit at least two years of their lives — the equivalent of 4,000 hours — to the service of others. Through the USA Freedom Corps, President George W. Bush wants to help every American to answer the call to service by strengthening and expanding service opportunities for them to protect our homeland, to support our communities, and to extend American compassion around the world. The USA Freedom Corps includes AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America, Citizen Corps, and nationwide local volunteer opportunities.
The Corporation for National and Community Service awards the first Homeland Security grants to engage citizens in public health, public safety, and disaster relief and preparedness.
President George W. Bush creates the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation to find ways to recognize the valuable contributions volunteers are making in our nation. The council creates the President’s Volunteer Service Award program as a way to thank and honor Americans who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reports that both the number of volunteers and the volunteer rate rose over the year ending in September 2003. About 63.8 million people did volunteer work at some point from September 2002 to September 2003, up from 59.8 million for the similar period ending in September 2002.
AmeriCorps receives a record funding increase to allow programs to grow to 75,000 members. A number of other milestones are reached:
  • AmeriCorps NCCC recognizes 10,000 alumni, 15.3 million service hours, 4,500 projects and 10 years of service during Legacy Weekends at all five campuses.
  • In recognition of its 40th anniversary, AmeriCorps VISTA commences a study of its alumni and the impact national service had on their lives.
  • More than 330,000 individuals have served through AmeriCorps
  • During the past decade, more than 1 billion volunteer service hours have been generated by Senior Corps volunteers.
  • Senior Companion Program celebrates its 30th anniversary
  • More than 1.8 billion high school students participate annually in service-learning initiatives funded by Learn and Serve America
The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll is launched by the Corporation for National and Community Service to honor the nation's top college and universities for their commitment to community service, civic engagement, and service-learning.
AmeriCorps celebrates its 500,000 member, and the first annual AmeriCorps Week is launched.
On April 21, President Barack Obama signs the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which reauthorizes and expands national service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. CNCS engages four million Americans in results-driven service each year, including 75,000 AmeriCorps members, 492,000 Senior Corps volunteers, 1.1 million Learn and Serve America students, and 2.2 million additional community volunteers mobilized and managed through the agency’s programs.



The Corporation for National and Community Service launches the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) and Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF). SIF ensures that high-impact nonprofits are able to attract the resources they need to grow and improve the economic, education, and health prospects of low-income communities. VGF, a program authorized by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, is designed to increase the number of people who serve in meaningful roles as volunteers dedicated to addressing important needs in communities across America. VGF supports efforts that expand the capacity of volunteer connector organizations to recruit, manage, support, and retain individuals to serve in high quality volunteer assignments.
The Corporation for National and Community Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency launch FEMA Corps, an innovative new partnership designed to strengthen the nation's ability to respond to and recover from disasters while expanding career opportunities for young people.
AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary with celebrations at state capitols across the country and a livestreamed event at the White House.
AmeriCorps VISTA and the Foster Grandparents Program celebrate 50 years with events across the country.



The Corporation for National and Community Service begins to publicly use the name the AmeriCorps agency, rebrands all its programs for seniors under the name AmeriCorps Seniors, and introduces a new logo.
The AmeriCorps agency celebrates its 30th anniversary with a year-long campaign and events across the country.