An exciting new program will soon put young D.C. volunteers to work helping our city.

The D.C. Service Corps, which starts up next June, will substitute the many negative urban experiences our young people have -- drugs, delinquency, dropping out of school -- with the positive experience of helping their community.

The D.C. Service Corps will unite young people from all neighborhoods in the performance of service projects, such as renovating shelters for the homeless, restoring playgrounds and parks, organizing after-school programs, assisting elderly people with chores and home repairs and serving as role models for other young people. It will offer young volunteers the chance to work on projects that will benefit the community in which they live while helping them develop work habits, skills and knowledge required for jobs that have a future.

The service corps is part of a new 16-city project aimed at young people who are not in school. Many members of the corps will be high school dropouts. Young people who are not college-bound constitute the most under-served constituency in American society. And their economic prospects have steadily worsened during the past 20 years as the manufacturing jobs they once aspired to have gone overseas.

The D.C. Service Corps will ask young people between the ages of 16 and 21 for a one-year, full-time commitment. Local leaders from business, education, labor and cultural groups stand behind this initiative, because they believe organized community service is at least a partial answer to the many problems troubling the lives of young D.C. residents as they enter adulthood amid the cross-currents of the urban scene.

These community leaders have great hopes for youth-service initiatives. Their hopes are shared by Congress, which has created bipartisan legislation concerning a youth corps. That legislation has passed the Senate and now is pending in the House. President Bush also has proposed a Youth Engaged in Service foundation (YES).

It would be naive to expect that a youth service corps alone can solve all the difficulties urban young people face. The combined influences of poverty and racism on their lives are too powerful. But at the very least the service corps will give Washington's youth the opportunity to serve others, to take more responsibility for community affairs and to gain the self-esteem that constructive activities can produce.

-- Sam Halperin is study director for the William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship.