The Charles Bronfman Prize Names Eric Greitens as 2012 Recipient
Eric Greitens, the visionary founder of an organization challenging post-9/11 veterans to build lives of purpose, strengthening individuals and communities while changing the national conversation about returning service members, is the 2012 recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize.
Each year, The Charles Bronfman Prize – and an accompanying $100,000 award – goes to a young humanitarian whose work is informed and fueled by Jewish values and has broad, global impact that can change lives.
Greitens, 38, founded St. Louis-based The Mission Continues in 2007, inspired by his humanitarian aid work in the most impoverished and unstable corners of the globe and as a Navy SEAL on the front line in the battle against terrorism.
The Mission Continues reflects his vision to reintegrate post-9/11 veterans into civilian life by challenging them to lead at home. Through six-month community service fellowships, veterans transform 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, along with more tightly bound communities in which they are full and active members.
“Jewish values exist not merely as notions or ideas, but as motivating forces with which to live and to strive for a more just world,” said James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank and Chairman and CEO of Wolfensohn and Company, on behalf of the Prize judges.
“Eric Greitens views those who have sacrificed on the battlefield as national assets. As history proves, this has not always been the case. By teaching us to respect and value this generation of warriors, he is not only a humanitarian, but also a leader guided by the light of just and noble ends.”
His approach is unique and addresses a pressing issue as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down. Tens of thousands of veterans return home and families, communities and the country wrestle with how to avoid the displacement, alienation and complex challenges that can result when service members rejoin civilian life.
A Pew Research Center study of post-9/11 veterans shows that about half of those surveyed report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress and many describe a difficult transition from the structure and camaraderie of the armed services to society at home. Their unemployment rate is higher than the national average, as is their suicide rate.
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 – as a humanitarian volunteer in Rwanda and Bosnia during periods of genocide and war and 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 said. He credits a Sunday school teacher in his youth who took him to a homeless shelter in St. Louis to expose him to other’s challenges, and asked Eric what he might do to help.
“All of us can play a role in repairing the world. I think about tikkun olam, and how we can use our limited time to be of service. I think we must dedicate and devote our days to making a difference in the lives of others, and to create a better, more just and more loving world in the spirit of gemilut hasadim.
“The greatest satisfaction I have in my work is when individuals tell me about the difference The Mission Continues has had in their lives. When you think about driving positive social change, ideas can become abstract and the problems can seem daunting. But if we focus each day on affecting individual lives, that for me is deeply satisfying, and step-by-step, by living the right example, the greater and broader change emerges.”
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.
“Eric’s conviction that the strong must act to protect and defend vulnerable people was solidified through his experiences as a humanitarian,” wrote Kaj Larsen, a correspondent for CNN Special Investigations and Documentaries, in his nomination of Greitens for The Charles Bronfman Prize.
“Eric determined that the right and necessary response to atrocities such as the Shoah, genocide in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, is for the capable to take action to protect others in their times of need. Eric believes that the great dividing line between words and results is courageous action.
“After seeing firsthand the results of inaction, the words ‘never again’ did not leave Eric’s mind; he decided to step forward and serve. He has combined his knowledge gained through his endeavors as a scholar with his practical experiences on the frontlines as a humanitarian and warrior to create a mission and an organization that is transforming and saving lives. In the truest sense, Eric is using every day to repair the world.”
Over 360 post-9/11 veterans serve in communities through The Mission Continues Fellowships, lead nearly 600 service projects and engage more than 15,000 volunteers. A Washington University study shows that 86 percent of Fellows consider their participation to have affected their lives positively by helping them become leaders within their communities, finding civilian employment, building support networks, and teaching others the value of community service.
“Eric has begun to change the way we speak about, think about, and embrace this generation of veterans,” wrote former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who supported his nomination for The Charles Bronfman Prize. “Eric is telling a story that this country needs to hear. For years, too few people talked about what this generation of veterans could do when they came home.
“His language has been adopted by the White House, by some leaders on Capitol Hill, by other veterans’ organizations and by other public commentators. The dialogue is beginning to change from one that focuses on what veterans have done or have suffered to what they have to give. To the extent that we have made progress, it is because of Eric’s vision and perseverance.”
“The Charles Bronfman Prize goes each year to an individual whose Jewish values influence his or her ability to make a global impact,” said Charles Bronfman. “To me, the highest form of giving is to provide people with the tools to improve themselves, and hence, the world about them. This is precisely what Eric has done with The Mission Continues. He has given wounded war veterans a challenge to continue to serve the country through his or her community.”
2012 marks the eighth year that The Charles Bronfman Prize is being awarded. 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 inspire the next generations.
“Our civic and moral responsibility is to treat our returning veterans with dignity and respect,” said Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, on behalf of the Prize founders. “Eric Greitens is an inspired humanitarian who teaches us all how to do just that, making veterans’ lives better and their communities stronger. For his passion, dedication and tireless efforts, he is being recognized by The Charles Bronfman Prize.”
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.
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 $100,000.
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.
For the Charles Bronfman Prize
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