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STANFORD -- If Catherine Milton has her way, by the year 2000 every American school child will have spent time feeding the hungry, helping the elderly or nurturing the environment.

As the founder and director of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford, Milton already has shown what can be done with volunteerism at the college level. Now, in a $73-million federal effort, she's trying to promote public service on an even larger scale.

"What we are doing is trying to help support a national movement of community service, particularly among young people," Milton said.

Since October 1991, Milton has been on leave from her job at Stanford to serve as the first executive director of the new Commission on National and Community Service in Washington, D.C.

The commission, a result of the National and Community Service Act of 1990, is charged with providing program funds, training and technical assistance to states and communities to develop and expand public-service opportunities.

Under Milton's direction, the commission will allocate funds in several major categories: $16.9 million to programs involving school-age youth in service to the community; $5.6 million to support college-student community service projects or teacher training in "service-learning" methods; and $22.5 million for full- time, year-round or summer conservation and youth service corps programs.

In addition, four to eight states and Indian tribes are expected to share up to $22.5 million in 1992 to test national service programs that will engage individuals ages 17 and older in full-time or part-time service. Participants will receive education or housing benefits upon completion of their term of service.

Milton is particularly excited about the funds to promote "service-learning" among kindergarten through 12th graders. Already she has had some experience in the area -together with Megan Swezey of the Haas Center, she helped to found a youth community-service program in Palo Alto, Calif.

Now in its second year, the program involves several hundred students in the Palo Alto Unified School District, who learn about things like pollution and poverty, then go on to clean up parks, run canned food drives and develop schoolwide recycling programs.

"This has tremendous potential for the whole education reform movement," said Milton. "When children see that what they're working on is going to be useful, they're motivated to learn more."

Milton also is eager to see the results of the adult service programs that will be tested by states and Indian tribes. If successful, they could provide a model for a major national public service program. (Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton has proposed providing college loans in exchange for service in teaching, policing or child care, among other things.)

"I personally tend to be conservative on these kinds of large-scale programs," Milton said. "If we send students out into the community, we want to make sure we're not sending them into a situation that they're not prepared for, or to a community that isn't prepared to receive them.

"That's why I feel very strongly that the approach that the commission is taking is the right one. Through this, we will learn what does work, what does not work, and what the problems are."



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