The idea of a national service has been circulating in various forms since William James suggested it in 1906: The Civilian Conservation Corps at its peak in 1935 had 500,000 unemployed young men building bridges and clearing trails during the Depression. The GI bill, which was originally supposed to draw an estimated 1 million, ended up attracting 7.8 million. The Peace Corps, established by President Kennedy in 1961, drew 15,000 volunteers at its peak to go to developing countries to teach English, dig wells, and help communities establish health clinics. Interest is still high: 12,587 applied for 6,000 spots in 1988. During the Vietnam war, then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan created the California Ecology Corps, because there were so many conscientious objectors and no place to put them. After the draft was dismantled, the next California governor, Jerry Brown, turned that group into into the California Conservation Corps. In 1977, President Carter started the Young Adult Conservation Corps. When then-President Reagan ended that in 1982, some states opted to keep the programs running with state funds. Today, about 12 states have some form of voluntary service with a stipend.

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