Service Milestones

Our country boasts a long tradition of service and volunteerism through the creation of civic and voluntary organizations to the national service participants of today. In fact, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in 1848, “Nothing, in my view, more deserves attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America.” Here are a few milestones:

  • 1881 – Clara Barton founds the American Red Cross.
  • 1904 – Big Brothers Big Sisters founded.
  • 1905 – First Rotary Club is organized in Chicago.
  • 1906 – YWCA of the USA is established.
  • 1910 – American philosopher William James envisions non-military national service in his essay “The Moral Equivalent of War”: “…instead of military conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years 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.”
  • 1918 – United Way of America establishes first national service center.
  • 1933-1942 – Through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), created by Franklin D. Roosevelt, millions of young people serve terms of 6 to 18 months to help restore the nation’s parks, revitalize the economy, and support their families and themselves. The GI Bill links service and education, offering Americans educational opportunity in return for service to their country.
  • 1961 – 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.”
  • 1964 – 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.
  • 1960s – The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Foster Grandparent Program, and the Senior Companion Program (which today comprise National Senior Service Corps) are developed to engage older Americans in the work of improving the nation.
  • 1970 – The Youth Conservation Corps engages 38,000 people age 14 to 18 in summer environmental programs.
  • 1976 – California Governor Jerry Brown establishes the California Conservation Corps, the first non-federal youth corps at the state level.
  • 1978 – The Young Adult Conservation Corps creates small conservation corps in the states with 22,500 participants age 16 to 23.
  • 1980s – 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.
  • 1989-1990 – President George Bush creates the Office of National Service in the White House and the Points of Light Foundation to foster volunteering.
  • 1990 – Congress passes, and President Bush signs, the National and Community Service Act of 1990. The legislation authorizes grants to schools to support service-learning (Serve America, now known as Learn and Serve America) and demonstration grants for national service programs to youth corps, nonprofits, and colleges and universities.
  • 1993 – President Bill Clinton signs the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, creating AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service to expand opportunities for Americans to serve their communities. VISTA becomes part of AmeriCorps.
  • 1994 – Congress passes the King Holiday and Service Act of 1994, charging the Corporation for National and Community Service with taking the lead in organizing Martin Luther King Day as a day of service.
  • Sep. 1994 – The first class of AmeriCorps members – 20,000 strong – begin serving in more than 1,000 communities. In swearing in these Americans, President 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.”
  • Apr. 1997 – The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, chaired by General Colin Powell, brings together President Clinton, former Presidents Bush, Ford, and Carter, and Mrs. Reagan to recognize and expand the role of AmeriCorps and other service programs in meeting the needs of America’s youth.
  • Jan. 2002 – President Bush announces the creation of the USA Freedom Corps during his State of the Union address.
  • April 2009– President Obama signs the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. The Serve America Act reauthorizes and expands existing national service programs as well as creates new funding streams to support service activities, including the Social Innovation Fund and Volunteer Generation Fund.
  • September 2009 – New York City Mayor Bloomberg along with other mayors from across the country launch the Cities of Service initiative to encourage service and volunteering in their respective cities.


SOURCES: Corporation for National and Community Service and The James Irvine Foundation.

History of Service

On September 21, 1993 President Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 (PL 103-82). This law merged two federal agencies, ACTION and the Commission on National and Community Service, creating the new Corporation for National Service. The Act also established AmeriCorps, a service program for Americans ages seventeen years and older. The Act required the governor of each state to create and appoint a commission to administer the AmeriCorps program. In 1994, Governor Pete Wilson created the California State Commission originally known as the Commission on Improving Life Through Service through Executive Order W-77-94. Since the commission’s inception, the first lady of California has served as the honorary chair of the commission. The organization was renamed by Governor Gray Davis as the Governor’s Office On Service and Volunteerism (GO SERV) in 2001. In August 2004, the organization was renamed the California Service Corps. In December 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-24-06, renaming the organization CaliforniaVolunteers. In this Executive Order, Governor Schwarzenegger charged CaliforniaVolunteers with ensuring the coordination of volunteer activities related to disaster response and recovery, including necessary training, equipment, and transportation provisions.