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Utah joined the nation in launching the national AmeriCorps program Monday with ceremonies at Parkview Elementary School in Salt Lake City.

"Often, I'm not very excited about federal programs," said Lt. Gov. Olene S. Walker, who called AmeriCorps a program "of vision and hope."AmeriCorps is the national service initiative that allows Americans 17 and older to perform community service for two years in selected projects that focus on education, human needs, public safety and the environment. In exchange for the full-time service, each volunteer receives $7,500 a year for living expenses and credit worth $4,725 a year toward college education or graduate work.

Utah has five state programs that will involve about 27 AmeriCorps volunteers. Two national AmeriCorps projects in Utah will use another 90 volunteers, said Michael Call, executive director of the state's Commission on National and Community Service. The commission was formed to administer Utah's AmeriCorps effort.

Call described the launching of AmeriCorps as a historic occasion. "It marks a renewed commitment to community service and voluntarism," he said. But he cautioned those who gathered for the launch that "with the desire to become successful, we've become combative. We're more concerned with getting ahead of the Joneses than getting help for the Joneses."

Most of the remarks were directed to the children from Park-view Elementary School. The school's choir sang throughout the program.

Mary Rule is one of Utah's first volunteers. She grew up in less-than-ideal foster homes and hopes that the AmeriCorps program will help her improve the lives of children in similar situations.

Volunteers Mason Graff and Kate Stephens also spoke of the opportunities they will have to combine their community service with the goal of advancing their educations.

Utah's AmeriCorps sites are:

- The Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Program (MESA) in Salt Lake City and Ogden. The program hopes to increase the number of low-income or underrepresented minority students from Salt Lake and Ogden to enroll in universities and colleges in Utah.

- The Southern Utah Ameri-Corps Education Program focuses on adult literacy in Southern Utah.

- Collaborative Land Management in Moab and Grand County pairs volunteers with fragile semidesert habitats for conservation and restoration work, as well as community education.

- At Parkview Elementary School, an AmeriCorps team will provide tutoring to at-risk youths.

- And the AmeriCorps and the Medically Underserved in Utah project will try to remove barriers to effective health care for people who have economic, social and geographic barriers.

- The two national efforts in Utah include the USDA Rural Development Team in the four-corners area who will help communities improve housing and agriculture, respond to disasters and protect watersheds. The final project builds esteem in youths through the Navajo Nation Youth Conservation Corps. The youths will focus on community revitalization and conservation projects.