But since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which helped the country recover from the Great Depression, presidents have used service programs to engage Americans in tackling issues such as poverty, housing and disaster relief, offer young people experience and create jobs. Kennedy founded Peace Corps for Americans to provide service abroad, and Vista for those wishing to serve at home.
Richard Nixon created the Senior Corps for older Americans. Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity still receives federal assistance for its efforts to build affordable housing. George Bush promoted his “Points of Light” to enroll the private sector and lay the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps. George W. Bush embraced the USA Freedom Corps and made the largest investment in national service ever, including growing the Peace Corps program.
John Bridgeland, who served as director of the USA Freedom Corps, which coordinated service after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said presidents had turned to national service programs to heal divides, solve public problems at a lower cost and train young people to become leaders who can get past their differences.
Each successive president protected the legacy of his predecessor. And on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump acknowledged that national service was popular among young people, saying there was “something beautiful about it.”