Reagan-era youth program issues call for volunteers

Television is boring. A job isn't all that easy to find. What are young people with time on their hands supposed to do? Become a volunteer.

That's the option President Reagan is promoting. Under a nationwide program kicked off here recently, ACTION - the White House office that oversees volunteer programs like VISTA and the Peace Corps - is seeking out 3,000 students, 14 to 22 years old, to volunteer for service in their communities.

The aim of Young Volunteers in Action (YVA) is twofold: to encourage voluntarism among youths and to provide badly needed work experience for a part of the US population hard hit by unemployment - 21.8 percent among 16- to 19 -year-olds, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unlike the Youth Challenge Program, a similar volunteer project that ended in 1976 after only two years in operation, YVA emphasizes private-sector involvement. Although YVA director Barbara Wyatt says she hopes to expand the present 12 demonstration projects to as many as 100 next year, federal funding for the local programs - set at $452,000 this year - will not last more than two years. At that point, YVA hopes, the private sector will start picking up the tab.

''All the local projects are set up with advisory councils that must include the private sector,'' explains Mrs. Wyatt. ''That way, rather than going to local businesses at the end of two years and asking them to pick up a program somebody else has launched, we'll have gotten them involved from the beginning. . . . Hopefully, then, they'll want to pick up the cost.''

In volunteer projects now being planned for the 12 demonstration programs, young people will be asked to contribute 10 hours of time each month. They will perform services like cleaning up local parks, pitching in at community recreation centers, visiting nursing homes, and tutoring in special education programs - in short, lending a helping hand wherever it's needed.

Active YVA recruiting at junior high schools, high schools, and colleges has yet to begin. In Los Angeles, however, a half-dozen teen-agers signed up at the YVA project in El Monte after reading a local newspaper article about the program's kickoff here.

''I was sitting here at home, watching TV as usual, when my mom walked in and handed me the newspaper,'' says 15-year-old Allen Shepherd, the first youth to volunteer here. ''She asked me if I liked helping people, and I said yes.''

Allen convinced two friends to sign up with him. ''It makes me feel like I'm doing something, and it makes me kinda happy,'' he explains. As for the TV time he'll be giving up, he says, ''I can push one thing away to help somebody else. And that's what I'm doing.''

The way Germaine Schwider, the local project director, sees it, ''There's a whole huge group (of kids) out there that wants to do something. . . . It's our fault, as leaders, to have neglected their potential.''

''I think we're seeing a trend we've overlooked,'' she continues. ''In the past, volunteers were always housewives.'' But with more housewives working today, she says, ''that market is gone now. That housewife is no longer a volunteer, she's staff. So that volunteer force is gone, and in some cases, is taking jobs traditionally for youth - like jobs in fast-food restaurants.''

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