WASHINGTON (AP) — The government took the first step Monday in expanding the AmeriCorps program, awarding grants to nonprofits and other organizations to put 57,000 AmeriCorps members to work in communities around the country.

The grants, totaling $234 million, are the first to be released under a new law aimed at tripling the national service program by 2017. States and territories will also get an additional $129 million for AmeriCorps slots. Officials expect to have a total of 85,000 people enrolled in the program this year.

AmeriCorps participants mentor children, clean up parks or buildings and weatherize homes for the poor among other activities. Some get a living stipend while they are working for up to a year. Most participants, who are predominantly 18 to 26, get about $11,800.

Teach for America, the program that trains top college students to teach in poor communities, received the largest grant — $11.4 million for 6,621 AmeriCorps members. It's just one of hundreds of national and local organizations, state service commissions, religious groups and other institutions getting the awards from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.

In April 2009, President Barack Obama signed a law to gradually increase the size of the Clinton-era AmeriCorps to 250,000 enrollees from 75,000. The measure outlines five broad categories where people can direct their service: helping the poor, improving education, encouraging energy efficiency, strengthening access to health care and assisting veterans.

Because of the law's focus, programs that help veterans were among the newest recipients of AmeriCorps grants. Operation Welcome Home, run by the California Department of Veterans Affairs, will get almost $560,000 for 80 AmeriCorps members who will help returning service members in California with the transition back to civilian life.



A state-by-state list of the grantees: http://tinyurl.com/22kz6pr