The Charles Bronfman Prize Awarded to Veteran Community Service Leader Eric Greitens
Eric Greitens, founder of an organization challenging post-9/11 veterans to build lives of purpose and helping them rejoin civilian life as productive and valued members of society, formally received The Charles Bronfman Prize for 2012 here today, recognized for embodying Jewish values, creating lasting impact and inspiring younger generations.
Greitens, 38, founded The Mission Continues in 2007 to offer veterans a path toward optimism, respect and continued service at home following his own tours of global aid work in the most impoverished and unstable parts of the world and his service as a decorated Navy SEAL in the battle against terrorism. His work with The Mission Continues has strengthened individuals and communities while promoting a national conversation about returning service members.
“This is a moment for me to recognize yet another wonderful young human being under 50 who has gone beyond himself to seek out a cause and address it with passion, enthusiasm and a deep, deep belief,” said Charles Bronfman, as he presented the Prize to Greitens at a ceremony attended by international dignitaries and officials from philanthropy, government, media, Jewish affairs and community service at The Harold Pratt House.
Each year, The Charles Bronfman Prize goes to a young humanitarian whose work is informed and fueled by Jewish values and has broad, global effect. Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, along with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, established the Prize in honor of their father and his commitment to applying Jewish values to better the world and to serve as a model for younger generations.
Accepting the Prize, Greitens cited his Jewish upbringing, and lessons learned in Sunday school – in particular, meeting Holocaust survivors who taught him lessons about the strength of the human spirit.
“What sunk in was more than the idea of ‘Never Again,’” he said. “It was the idea that even in horrific situations, people can choose courage and dignity. People can survive. They can move through tragedy, possibly stronger, to live full lives.
“Had it not been for that lesson, I don’t think that I would have chosen to go to work with refugees. And had I not done that, it’s unlikely that I would be standing here today. It was my experience in Bosnia and Rwanda, where people told me that they were grateful for the aid they received, but that they needed to be protected, that convinced me that there had to be a way to live a life both compassionate and courageous, to be both good and strong.”
The Mission Continues applies a unique approach to address pressing issues related to tens of thousands of veterans who served the country following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and as families, communities and the country seek to avoid the displacement, alienation and complex challenges that can result when service members rejoin civilian life. Through six-month community service fellowships with The Mission Continues, veterans are transformed from citizen warriors to citizen leaders by working in local non-profits that reflect their interests and passions, and leading projects that involve hundreds of community volunteers.
Full employment, higher education, or ongoing service is often the result, and tightly bound communities in which they are active members. To date, over 500 post-9/11 veterans have served in communities through The Mission Continues Fellowships, leading nearly 600 service projects and engaging more than 27,000 volunteers.
“We create opportunities for people to build caring and supportive relationships with fellow veterans and with their communities,” Greitens said. “They carry out meaningful work and build a sense of purpose in their lives, and they all find ways to turn their unavoidable sufferings into strength, their pain into wisdom, and their fear into courage.
“When we see the contributions of people like Charles, the dedication of his children, the commitment of those he has honored, the commitment of my team, the service of our Fellows, I know that their example brings us closer to living our own best lives.”
An international panel of judges selected Greitens after a rigorous nomination process produced candidates from across the spectrum of social entrepreneurship and resulting impact.
On behalf of the panel, Dr. Amitai Ziv, Founder and Director of The Israel Center for Medical Simulation, recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize in 2007, a former IDF air force pilot and a Prize judge, spoke at the ceremony of Greitens’ vision of filling a societal void with purpose and impact.
“As a former combat pilot and now as a doctor, I understand the importance of creating a transition between the battlefield and civilian life,” Dr. Ziv said. “I am in awe of Eric Greitens, whose ideas and actions have successfully bridged the two, and who defines this complex and emotionally loaded transition not only as an individual human challenge, but also as a collective responsibility. Despite whatever trauma, whatever injury, whatever sacrifice, he has demonstrated that our veterans can rebuild their lives, make them meaningful and find great purpose again once they are home.”
Dr. Ziv continued: “Eric’s character, creative vision and social commitment exemplify Charles’ life-long belief in the responsibility of individuals to engage in work that contributes to improving the world, and thereby providing inspiration to others.”
Born and raised in Missouri, Greitens attended Duke University, where he studied ethics, philosophy and public policy. A Rhodes and Truman Scholar, he attended the University of Oxford, earning a master’s degree in Development Studies in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Politics in 2000. He has devoted his life to service, first as a humanitarian volunteer in Rwanda and Bosnia during periods of genocide and war and then as a United States Navy SEAL deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia during the global war on terror. These experiences, combined with his deeply held Jewish values, inspired him to seek ways to drive positive change.
Greitens wrote The Heart and the Fist, a New York Times bestselling book published last year describing his experiences, and Strength and Compassion, a prize-winning collection of photographs from his humanitarian work overseas and essays on compassion, courage, dignity and faith. A new book published this fall – The Warrior’s Heart – challenges young readers to make a difference in the world.
A contingent of The Mission Continues Fellows attended the Award ceremony in support of Greitens and as living and evolving examples of the power of one individual to transform multitudes through inspiration and empowerment.
Melissa Steinman, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in 1997 and did tours of duty in Guantanamo Bay, Kuwait and New York, described how her Fellowship gave her strength, conviction and energy to pursue a post-military career as a teacher in Oregon.
“My Fellowship allowed me to reconnect to a purpose instilling the core values of honor, duty and respect to children in my community,” she said. “But The Mission Continues also reignited a passion to serve something greater than myself. It instilled in me the confidence to once again pursue my dream. My leadership has helped put those kids on a path, and the opportunity to serve them has put me on a path of citizen leadership.”
2012 marks the ninth year that The Charles Bronfman Prize is being awarded. Previous recipients are Jay Feinberg, Founder and Executive Director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation; Dr. Alon Tal, Founder of Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; Dr. Amitai Ziv, Founder and Director of the Israel Center for Medical Simulation; Rachel Andres, Founder and Director of Jewish World Watch’s Solar Cooker Project; Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Co-Founders of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP); Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director, RefugePoint; Jared Genser, Founder and President of Freedom Now; and, Karen Tal, Former Principal of The Bialik-Rogozin School and Co-Founder of Education Insights.
“We are so proud of all of the Prize fellows and our newest recipient, Eric Greitens,” said Stephen Bronfman. “Over the past nine years, we’ve gathered to honor what we learned from our Dad: Jewish values matter and can be a catalyst for great purpose, have a positive impact on our individual lives, our families and our global community.”
“Since 2004, we’ve received over 400 nominations from 27 countries covering six continents. The Prize family now includes 10 laureates who continue to make a mark on the world and inspire future generations to live and achieve by their example. Their impact spans the globe in such areas as education, human rights, health care, science, environmentalism, and now, with Eric, the empowerment of post-9/11 war veterans. Eric is a great example of all that the Prize seeks to recognize.”
Ellen Bronfman Hauptman lauded the selection of Greitens and his representation of the values of the Prize named for her father.
“Eric is a true humanitarian whose passion and dedication inspire and uplift us all. We commend his courage, determination and commitment to service. The idea of the Prize is to inspire future generations. The work of all of our Prize recipients, now including Eric, teaches our children to live with courage and turn a vision into reality. We are immensely proud of Eric and this group of Prize laureates.”
Nominations for the 2013 Charles Bronfman Prize will be accepted beginning November 1, 2012. Selection criteria and forms are at www.thecharlesbronfmanprize.com.
About The Charles Bronfman Prize
The Charles Bronfman Prize is a humanitarian award that celebrates the vision and endeavor of an individual or team, under fifty years of age, whose humanitarian work has contributed significantly to the betterment of the world. Its goal is to bring public recognition to young, dynamic individuals whose Jewish values infuse their humanitarian accomplishments and provide inspiration to the next generations. An internationally recognized panel of Judges selects the Prize recipient(s) and bestows an award of id=”mce_marker”00,000.
The Charles Bronfman Prize Foundation, a United States 501(c)(3) corporation headquartered in New York, administers the Prize. For more information about Charles Bronfman, The Prize or prior recipients and their accomplishments, please visit www.TheCharlesBronfmanPrize.com.