VINTON, Iowa (AP) — Baseball fan Katie Keane thought she had her post-college plans pretty well mapped.

"I wanted to work in baseball really bad," said Keane.

Then the January 2010 Haiti earthquake happened.

"That really changed my ideas of how I wanted to use my time in this world," said Keane, 23, of Richmond, Va.

Rebecca Bigler wasn't sure what her future held after graduating from the University of Colorado with an English degree.

"I didn't really want to pick a career yet and have a set life, so to speak," said Bigler, 23, of Littleton, Colo.

Bigler and Keane's searches took them to the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC, usually "N-triple-C" to members), the full-time, residential branch of the AmeriCorps community service program. And that led the two to NCCC's Vinton campus this month.

Civic duty and economic recession spurred AmeriCorps enrollments to a record 584,000 last year, up from 360,000 in 2009, said spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield in Washington, D.C.

"We're really seeing an increase in interest," said Warfield.

"It didn't feel like the right time to go right into the whole law school thing," said recent college graduate Monica Hodges, 24, of Seattle.

"I was working in retail, and I didn't like it," said Joe Reilly, 23, of Denver. Instead, he's just spent a few months cleaning up abandoned buildings in Youngstown, Ohio.

Warfield said interest is strong through AmeriCorps' three program branches:

NCCC is the full-time residential program for members 18 through 24 — team leaders may be older — who are assigned to projects in communities across the country.

AmeriCorps State and National provides grants funding state and local programs to meet community needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment. Members, who may be older than 24, are trained and remain in their hometowns, where they may also hold their regular jobs while working part-time for AmeriCorps.

Founded in 1965, Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) was incorporated into AmeriCorps when it was created in 1993. VISTA provides full-time members to local programs aimed at bringing people out of poverty.

Full-time NCCC and State and National members perform 1,700 service hours over 11 months, which qualifies them for educational benefits of up to $5,500. NCCC funding is about $1 billion this year, down about 2 percent over last year.

Warfield thinks "the generation that's graduating from college has had a couple of formative events" in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

"If you were 10, 11 when (Sept. 11) happened you may be service-oriented," Warfield said. "More high schools have a public service component, and folks are looking for non-traditional options to help pay for school."

Besides, "being able to work in service full-time is really fun," said Victoria McKenzie, 19, who grew up in rural Washington State and enrolled right out of high school.

College loans are held in abeyance during a graduate's NCCC service, and members earn a tuition benefit for each year of service, up to two years — $5,500 this year. The benefit may help pay college loans.

With 900 active members, Iowa is among the top states in AmeriCorps activity.

The state has taken some steps to lure NCCC members when their service is done. Several private colleges, including Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, match the education benefit, and Iowa is the only state to exempt AmeriCorps benefits from income tax.

NCCC has taken over the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, now one of five regional AmeriCorps training centers. Blind Iowa students are now served by their community schools, leaving the facility to play host to occasional short-term services and the staff that coordinates Statewide System for Vision Services.

AmeriCorps leases most of the campus for $605,000 a year, including the services of its maintenance staff.

"This is a good space for AmeriCorps, and it really works well for us," said Patrick Clancy, administrator of the services agency. "We've seen the buildings are in better shape for AmeriCorps' presence on this campus" as members help repair buildings and plant trees to replace those lost to the July 2011 wind storm.

New members arrive for a few weeks' training and assignment to their team of 10 to 12 people. After an initial seven-to-nine-week deployment, teams return to Vinton for about a week for debriefing, report writing and reassignment.

They repeat as needed until a year's term is up — and repeat again for many members who sign up for a second term.

"This campus is really a natural fit," said Rachel Lebeaux, 24, of Merrick, N.Y. "The community of Vinton has been fantastic in embracing our members."

With about 200 AmeriCorps members in Vinton most days between field assignments or working in support roles, the place certainly feels like a campus, albeit one without climbing walls and other upscale amenities. Laptop-toting young people hurry to debriefings and other meetings while others relax and check email in dormitory lounges.

Teams plan menus and prepare meals in the dorms' kitchens, following the same spending limits they do in the field: $4.75 per person per day.

AmeriCorps members in cargo shorts or work pants and uniform T-shirts have become a familiar sight around town, Mayor John Watson said.

"We have a good rapport, and most of all we want them to feel Vinton is their home away from home," Watson said. "They're all over town, and they're genuinely welcome here. These people will be the next future of America."

AmeriCorps members participated in cleanup efforts after last year's wind storm and the June 2008 flood. Watson said they've painted the city animal shelter, did much of the work building the city's veterans' memorial, and have planted trees to replace those lost last year.

Dan Milnes, regional NCCC director, estimated the Vinton facility's local economic impact at about $2.7 million yearly, excluding staff salaries.

The campus will get busier as members arrive for training under NCCC's new partnership with Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMACorps will build toward a 1,600-member workforce to support of FEMA's disaster response teams.

Milnes expects FEMACorps will bring another 240 members to Vinton for training in a few weeks.

By then, most of those there now will have moved on. Teams were preparing last week to help Minot, N.D., with flood recovery, to repair homes in Omaha for Habitat for Humanity, and to stain cabin siding and build trails at Hiawatha National Forest on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

In addition to their official assignments, members are required to find other local projects to volunteer for on their own time.

"It's really great to see your teammates come out of their shells," said Keane, who's headed for Upper Michigan.

"The skills you learn and take with you are something you'll always have," said Laurie Miller, 21, of North Providence, R.I.