in the United States, national service has taken a variety of forms, from the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s to AmeriCorps of the 1990s until today. It can also serve as the basis for a new Civilian Climate Corps. It has been voluntary and selective, rather than mandatory and universal, and is organized and funded typically through partnership of the Corporation for National and Community Service, state service commissions, and a broad array of nonprofits. Many projects focus on conservation, reforestation, watershed restoration, fighting wildfires, and disaster response, and seek to inculcate a civic ethic through public work .

Fast Facts:

Conservation work has been important to national service since the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Today, CNCS funds a wide array of conservation work, including forest and coastal restoration, wildfire prevention and response, land conservation and stewardship, park and trails maintenance, disaster response in face of hurricanes and floods, energy efficiency in homes and low-income housing construction. This work typically occurs through nonprofit conservation corps, other community organizations, and in partnership with various federal agencies, as well as state and local agencies.


National service has had three main phases of innovation, each with a different mix of program goals, recruitment mechanisms, and institutional features, as well as conceptions of active citizenship that the programs have emphasized. These three main phases of innovation are:

  • 1933-1942: Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
  • 1965-present: Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)
  • 1994-present: Corporation for National and Community Service

For a comparative scholarly analysis of these features across the three periods, see the book by Melissa Bass, reviewed in our Bookshelf.

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