Hands of Peace raises $200,000 for Summer Program

  • Hands of Peace founder Gretchen Grad speaks about the local nonprofit's 20-year journey during the recent benefit held at Loyola University's Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills.

    Hands of Peace founder Gretchen Grad speaks about the local nonprofit's 20-year journey during the recent benefit held at Loyola University's Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills. Courtesy of Bonnie Robinson

 
 
Posted6/27/2022 10:47 AM

Hands of Peace celebrated its 20th anniversary with close to 200 supporters on Sunday, May 22, at Loyola University's Cuneo Mansion and Gardens in Vernon Hills, raising more than $200,000 to support the upcoming Summer Program.

The inspirational evening, a tribute to "20 Years of Planting Peace," celebrated the generosity of the Hands of Peace community and the vision and leadership of founder Gretchen Grad.

 

In addition, guests heard remarks from Stav Arnon, a Jewish-Israeli Hands of Peace participant in 2004, and Dr. Elias Hawila, a Palestinian citizen of Israel participant in 2004 and 2005.

Arnon hosts an Israeli program on DemocratTV and is an anti-domestic violence activist. Hawila practices family medicine in Tel Aviv and continues to support Hands of Peace as a facilitator for the Summer Program. Both alumni spoke about how their Hands of Peace experiences shaped them and inspired their journeys as peacemakers.

In addition to the keynote speeches, there were reflections from other alumni and longtime Hands of Peace volunteers, host families and supporters, who shared how the program has grown over the years and has built a shared vision for justice and peace.

The Hands of Peace Summer Program brings together American, Israeli and Palestinian youth, many who come from areas divided by conflict and violence.

Grad came up with the idea shortly after 9/11, when she was feeling helpless and wanted to do something to bring more peace to the world. The organization was founded in 2002, and the first Summer Program was held in 2003.

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Since then, Hands of Peace has expanded in size, strength and scope, with Summer Programs in San Diego; alumni programs in Israel, Palestine and the U.S.; and multi-narrative tours to the Middle East for American youth and adults.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky recently recognized the Hands of Peace 20th anniversary with a proclamation that was read into the Congressional Record and shared at the benefit. There were also celebratory proclamations from State Sen. Julie Morrison and State Sen. Laura Fine, who hosted Hands of Peace participants for three years.

The Hands of Peace Summer Program returns in July after a hiatus because of COVID. Eighty youth from the United States, Israel and Palestine will gather in Chicago for three weeks for dialogue and leadership training. Israeli and Palestinian participants stay with local host families.

Host families are still needed for the Summer Program. To learn more about this and other opportunities to get involved, go to www.handsofpeace.org.

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