Reporter: Haley Harrison - Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2009
President Barack Obama is making volunteer service a priority with a campaign called "United We Serve" with a summer of volunteer work that started Monday at Shenandoah National Park with a special guest.
Getting back to nature is helping America rebound from recession. As the treasure of our national parks gets passed on, a new generation is learning the value of service.
"Everybody here has such amazing passion for what they do, it's really neat to see other people my age with that passion," says student volunteer Bri Richards, who will be a senior this fall at Penn State University.
Richards is one of the many youth who gives up her summer to work through the Student Conservation Association. Students receive a stipend for living expenses for the summer and work on projects through the park as interns.
Monday's project had volunteers, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, pulling invasive, non-native plants from the park.
"It spreads fastest along trails and sticks to boots and treads," says Ranger and park Bio-Science Technician Jack Hughes.
Workers pulled three non-native species of plant, including Japanese Stilt Grass, Oriental Lady's Thumb and Garlic Mustard Seed.
"I think the important thing is that every plant we pull is one less plant that's not going to be there the next year," says Richards.
Salazar wants service projects like this to become a greater part of the American experience.
"I want us to have a Herculean effort in years ahead in how we engage our young people in all facets of what we do in the U.S.," says Salazar.
With the country in a recession, Salazar says federal projects will put people back to work like they did during the Great Depression. From 1933 to 1942, the government put more than three million men to work nationwide through a conservation program.
"Seeing here these young people coming together saying 'We are going to be part of a solution for America. We're going to stand up our economy again,'" says Salazar on how service projects will help the United States recover from the recession.
Currently, 15,000 young people work in America's parks and Salazar says Shenandoah is a shining example of service at its best.
"They're here in these jobs because it's a way to get a little money, and because they're learning botany, climate change and energy," says Salazar. "They're getting something on their resume that's a real tangible thing so when they graduate they have something to show."
Employees with the Youth Conservation Corps also helped out with the service project. YCC hires teens to work in the parks for about $6 or $7 an hour. Salazar says, in addition to promoting volunteerism, he wants to expand paid service opportunities like the YCC.