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Group Seeks To Pave Way for New Social Entrepreneurs

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Soon after Roger Landrum finished a stint in the Peace Corps in Nigeria in 1964, he decided to launch Teachers Inc., a teacher corps that operated in six East Coast cities for about seven years.

Getting started was not easy, whether he was selecting board members or helping corps members cope with the limited resources and sometimes chaotic nature of inner-city schools.

But now, as the president of Youth Service America, Mr. Landrum is trying to make that process easier for a new generation of social entrepreneurs. The Washington-based group advocates youth service at the national, state, and local levels.

Over the next five years, the group's "fund for social entrepreneurs" will help 18 young people establish community-service organizations. Last month, Y.S.A. announced its first "class" of seven winners, many of whom are launching groups that focus on education and youths. (See related story.)

It will select two more classes over the next two years and work with each group for three years.

Winners will receive $36,000 in seed money over a two-year period and about $100,000 worth of training and technical assistance.

Youth Service America also will seek pro bono services from other organizations to provide an extra cushion of support. One Y.S.A. board members, for example, is working to secure free legal assistance for the entrepreneurs.

At a Crossroads

The group, founded by Mr. Landrum in 1986, provides training and technical assistance to more than 2,000 service organizations.

It has given support to several prominent nonprofits founded by young people--among them City Year and Public Allies, two of the volunteer corps that received federal funding from AmeriCorps, President Clinton's service program.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., provided a five-year, $1 million grant to get the project started.

"We see the service movement in America as being at a very interesting crossroads," said Joel J. Orosz, the coordinator for philanthropy, volunteerism, and leadership programming at the Kellogg Foundation.

"In many ways, one could say the work of foundations has paid off because we now have AmeriCorps," Mr. Orosz said. "But we don't think that the job is done. Every movement needs a constant fertilization down at the grassroots level."

Primary goals for this project include identifying and supporting visionary young people and reinforcing a private-sector entrepreneurial tradition as a central part of national service.

"I think since President Clinton started AmeriCorps there has been a general misunderstanding that this is all a government effort," Mr. Landrum said.

"While we didn't start the entrepreneurial program to [dispel that], I think it can now serve that purpose and build a bipartisan foundation of support for national service," he added.

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