I have long been an advocate of community service for young people. It helps connect them with their communities and helps them see how good it can feel to work for the common good. For this reason, I strongly support the national service program, AmeriCorps, which is basically a domestic Peace Corps.

In Santa Barbara County, AmeriCorps volunteers help young people read and succeed in school. Literacy tutors help low-level readers in grades K-8 at 20 schools countywide. Full-time members also help with volunteer recruitment and disaster preparedness. An annual living allowance is provided along with an education award and health benefits.

Applications for individuals wishing to take part in the AmeriCorps program are now being accepted for the 2008-09 school year, which begins in August. The first round of interviews for 31 full-time and 10 part-time members on the South Coast and in the North County will be held in late May. Click here for applications and reference forms.

AmeriCorps volunteers come from all walks of life. Whether a retired person interested in giving back to the community or a college student considering a career in education, AmeriCorps members make a difference in local schools and in the lives of children.

AmeriCorps members serve 1,700 hours (900 for part-timers), beginning in August. Full-time members receive an annual living allowance of $13,000, an education award of $4,725 (at completion of term), and health and child-care benefits. Part-timers receive a $6,882 living allowance stipend and an education award of $2,362.

The county Education Office AmeriCorps team has been extremely diverse over the last seven years. Some members have college degrees and use their education award for graduate programs; others enroll in teaching credential programs after their service. Still others come out of retirement to serve. What they all have in common is a passion for making a difference in the lives of our young people in schools.

The program is administered by the California Service Corps and sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

For more information, contact Tom Spadoro at the county Education Office at 805.964.4710 x4404 or click here to e-mail him.

I believe this is a wonderful model for all involved, and I encourage anyone who may be interested to find out more about this very valuable program.

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools.