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Local Stories November 29, 2018

Today weʼd like to introduce you to Sarah Heirendt.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why donʼt you give us some details about you and your story.
At 19, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Cyprus. From there it was the perfect springboard to travel around the Middle East. I backpacked through Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Israel, and Palestine. During my time in the West Bank, I was touched by the stories I heard. I decided to return and volunteer in a refugee camp for three weeks helping run a summer program for children.

It was the most heart-opening while simultaneously heart wrenching experience and I knew I had found my passion. Working with children and youth so that they may be empowered to serve as leaders in their own communities and beyond. When I came back to the United States, I decided to apply for my Masters in Conflict Resolution and Analysis. I attended George Mason University and began working at a non-profit providing Child & Family Services.

Not long after I graduated, I went through a painful divorce and ended up back home in California. I took a job in Sales and Business Development to make ends meet and learned what if felt like to not be living my passion. With every cold call, I felt that my soul was being crushed. When I jumped on the job platform ‘Idealistʼ I was desperately searching for something that would bring back meaning to my career.

When I saw Hands of Peace, I blinked several times and pinched myself to make sure it was real! I couldnʼt believe a non-profit existed in San Diego that brought teens together from Israel, Palestine, and America. It was my dream job! Without a second thought, I emailed the Director asking to get coffee. In just a few short weeks I quit my job and took on a seasonal position working with Hands of Peace as an Assistant Program Director during their three-week summer program every July.

There was no guarantee of income beyond those three weeks, and I had no backup plan, but I felt with every bone in my body that it was meant to be. Those three weeks were the most emotional, challenging and overwhelming that I had ever encountered professionally. They left me so moved by the brave teens who came to participate and encounter each other for the first time.

Hands of Peace became a part of me, and I fell in love. When a full-time position became available later in the fall of 2016, the stars aligned and I was given the incredible honor to serve as the San Diego Site Director.

Great, so letʼs dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges youʼve had to overcome?

The road to discovering my dream job was paved with learning valuable, sometimes difficult lessons. I had learned from my previous job that if I was not coming from a place of real passion and authenticity, I would burn out. It was only when I took a risk and had no guarantee of the future that everything fell into place.

With Hands of Peace, I stepped into a role where I was challenged by peopleʼs expectations, and I had to grow my confidence to find my way into this role just as much as it found me. Itʼs been a journey that has kept me humble and grateful every step of the way.

I am overwhelmed most of all by the incredible community of people that give their time, talent and resources to make this program possible. The volunteers and host families who open their hearts to support the youth as they embark on this life-changing journey.

Alright – so letʼs talk business. Tell us about Hands of Peace – what should we know?

Hands of Peace empowers young people to raise their voices as leaders of change.

Through the power of dialogue Americans, Palestinians and Israeliʼs partner to pursue peace, freedom, equality, and justice. Every summer in Carlsbad & Chicago nearly 100 youth are transformed by their encounter with one another. For some of the teens coming from the Middle East, it is their first time meeting a Palestinian or an Israeli, let alone sitting in a room having challenging dialogue for three hours a day.

The teens stay with local host families and engage in a myriad of other activities including arts, sports, leadership development, and interfaith encounters. Started in the Chicago suburbs, Hands of Peace was founded by members of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities in the wake of 9/11 to build bridges.

There are only a handful of organizations in the country that do similar work, and we are extremely proud to be apart of the San Diego community. We have over 200 volunteers that make the annual program possible, from host families, workshop presenters, event organizers, religious partners, etc. and we could not have grown and blossomed without their support.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?

Community is integral to our success. A core component of our program is our host families. The teens that come from the Middle East stay with local families in North County, and itʼs an incredibly valuable cross-cultural exchange for everyone involved.

Each summer we work to recruit over 30 families for staff and youth who generously open their homes and hearts. We could not conduct our Summer Program without them. There are families who have hosted for the past five years in San Diego and now have multiple “sons” and “daughters” on the other side of the world.

The relationships formed are so deep and meaningful, it makes this experience profoundly personal.


  • American Participants – ages 15-17 throughout San Diego are encouraged to apply for the Summer Program July 10-29, 2019!

Contact Info:

  • Address: 441 Saxony Encinitas, CA 92024 1000 Elm Street Chicago, IL 60025
  • Website:
  • Phone: 5599997066
  • Email: sheirendt@handsofpeace.orgInstagram:
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