Hands of Peace will kick off its 17th Chicago Summer Program on Wednesday, July 10, with 43 Israeli, Palestinian and American teens coming together for three weeks of peacebuilding. The high school students, many of whom come from areas deeply divided by conflict, will build bridges and leadership skills, as they take part in activities throughout the Chicago area and live with local host families.
The Hands of Peace program empowers young people to find their voices as peace leaders, break down stereotypes and gain the knowledge and critical thinking skills to take steps toward peace in their home communities.
Teen participants have undergone an extensive application process to be part of the program, showing a desire to share their perspectives, listen and work toward peace.
The central activities of the program are intensive daily dialogue sessions, led by professional facilitators, in which teens tell their personal stories, listen and share views about paths for peace. They also take part in educational, cultural and teambuilding activities, including a visit to a church, synagogue and mosque.
The participants, who come from widely varied backgrounds, commit to forging a connection and finding common ground, as they work to break down the walls of conflict in the Middle East and throughout the world.
“Young people are the key to change and peace, so the transformations that we see taking place during the summer program give us hope for a better future,” says Gretchen Grad, founder of Hands of Peace.
After the Summer Program, Hands of Peace alumni continue to grow as peace leaders, taking part in seminars, alumni club activities and leadership programs to implement community projects in their hometowns.
In addition, Hands of Peace holds educational events such as film dialogue nights, guest lectures and community service projects.
The organization also sponsors a Multi-Narrative Tour of Israel and Palestine for supporters.
In addition to the students in the Chicago program this year, there are 43 teens in the San Diego program, which is now in its sixth year.
The Summer Program culminates with a farewell celebration from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Glenbrook South High School, 4000 W. Lake Ave. in Glenview.
Hands of Peace participants will share their experiences from the Summer Program, their stories of hope for the future and how the program has changed their perspectives. There will be short films created by this year’s participants, as well as an hors d’oeuvres and dessert reception where attendees can meet the Middle Eastern and American teens.