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250 volunteers to aid the needy

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Add to the list of Olympic visitors about 250 young people from all over the United States. They aren't coming for a fancy vacation — they will be working hard and staying in the area's homeless shelters. But they are excited to be here and, of all the state's visitors, these could be among the most useful.

AmeriCorps is sending 250 volunteers to help local agencies, such as the Road Home, YWCA, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities. They will be here through March 1. Serving the needy is typical of AmeriCorps, but the magnitude of volunteers they've sent to Utah is unique for a planned event. These numbers are typically reserved for natural disasters, said Keith Caudle, Western Region Director for AmeriCorps.

Utah's local and national leaders praised the volunteers for their much-needed help.

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker said the volunteers' humanitarian service would help needy people "to make sure they survive the Olympics."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the volunteers "everyday heroes" who sacrifice their time and talents to help others.

"We're just grateful to have them here," Hatch said.

Lori Sandoval, of the Salt Lake Community Action Program, is also glad for the extra help. "I think we're going to be prepared to meet the needs of the families and individuals who need the services that we can provide," she said. The AmeriCorps volunteers working with her staff will learn to meet immediate needs, such as hunger, but they also will be trained in coordinating with other agencies to assist in long-term needs, such as employment, housing and medical issues.

One of the volunteers is Joseph Corsetti, 22, of Connecticut. He graduated from college with a degree in history, but he's doing a stint with National Civilian Community Corps, a subsidiary of AmeriCorps, while he figures out exactly what he wants to do. He said he's excited to work with the homeless and get a better understanding of homelessness.

Caudle said the AmeriCorps' experience is valuable to the volunteers and may convince some to work for nonprofit agencies similar to the ones they work with as volunteers. All volunteers go through Red Cross disaster training, but Caudle hopes they won't need to use those skills during the Olympics.

AmeriCorps volunteers work for 10 months to a year doing service such as tutoring, planting community gardens and building houses. For their labor, they receive room and board and $4,725 to be used for school or school loans. Caudle said the volunteers' code of conduct isn't much different from what he saw in his 30 years in the Air Force.

"You won't find a better group of individuals," he said.

E-mail: ajacobs@desnews.com