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Jenny Kustra-Quinn | Daily Herald | April 15, 2019 

Hands of Peace alumni from the U.S. and Middle East gather April 7 at Chicago Botanic Garden for the Seasons of Hope Benefit:Zinat Kabbani (’09), Parker Hara (’18), Erika Grad (’10), Mckenzie Lyons (’17, ’18), Ashleigh Roth (’18), Eliza Schloss (’18), Nabaa Khan (’17, ’18), Amreen Khadeer (’12, ’13) and Noam Preminger (’11, ’12).

At its annual Benefit on April 7 at Chicago Botanic Garden, Hands of Peace alumni told moving stories of how the program has transformed their lives and helped them raise their voices as leaders of change. About 230 supporters were riveted by the former participants from the U.S. and the Middle East sharing how the Hands of Peace Summer Program helped them overcome stereotypes and learn leadership skills that continue to shape their peacebuilding journeys today. The program has resulted in 600 alumni living and working for peace across the U.S., in the Middle East and throughout the world.

The Seasons of HOPE Benefit raised $135,000 to help Hands of Peace continue to grow its teen leadership program, which brings American and Middle Eastern high school students together for three weeks each summer in the Chicago and San Diego areas. Many of the Israeli and Palestinian participants come from areas deeply divided by conflict and violence, yet they forge a connection and find common ground through the Summer Program. This transformation evolves throughout the three weeks of dialogue sessions, educational activities, community organizing workshops and team-building outings.

Funds raised at the Benefit also support programs that help Hands of Peace alumni grow as peace leaders following the Summer Program, through alumni club activities and leadership programs that enable participants to implement community projects in their hometowns.

The Seasons of HOPE Benefit featured a powerful short film made by a Hands of Peace participant, as well as several alumni taking turns telling how the Summer Program breaks down the walls of conflict and addresses issues of equality, freedom and justice. Two of the alumni traveled from the Middle East to share their stories in a “Ted Talk”-style presentation. Noam Preminger, a 2011 Israeli participant, and Zinat Kabbani, a 2009 Palestinian Citizen of Israel participant, recounted their experiences as young Hands of Peace teens traveling to Chicago, and they shared how those three weeks had a profound impact on them and continue to guide them in their work and activism today.

Hands of Peace is a non-profit 501(c)(3) global interfaith organization. It was founded by members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, including Gretchen Grad, who was inspired to start the organization shortly after 9/11, believing that peace could be nurtured, one person at a time. The effort has expanded in size, strength and scope over the past 16 years, with a San Diego program launching in 2014.

The annual Summer Program takes place in the Chicago and San Diego areas over three weeks each July. After an extensive application process, approximately 50 Middle Eastern and American participants are chosen for each site. The Middle Eastern participants live with local host families, giving many in the city and suburbs an opportunity to build long-lasting friendships and learn about the conflict from those who have experienced it firsthand.

The 2019 Summer Program will take place July 10-29, with the Farewell Celebration on Sunday, July 28, at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview. For more information, visit