Written by Molly Greenheart

Leaders for Peace

Leaders for Peace by Molly Greenheart

By: Rocio Ortega, Communications and Engagement Assistant, Greenheart International

When do you discover purpose? When your soul is suddenly gripped by a strong desire, a calling, a direction? After living a few decades and breathing in the complexities of the world? Do you happen upon it by chance along one of your many journeys visiting a new country or experiencing a new culture? With Mikva Challenge, students discover purpose within communities and Chicago high school classrooms that they call home.

Mikva Challenge is a nonpartisan agency that provides Chicago high school youth with opportunities to participate in the democratic process and prepares them to be informed, engaged, ethical citizens and community leaders. Along with other Greenheart staff, I recently served as a volunteer judge for Mikva’s 15th Annual Action Civics Showcase at the Chicago Cultural Center. The showcase is an opportunity for students from 60 Chicago high schools to present on and offer solutions for a diverse array of issues that they have identified within their schools and communities. These youth action projects tackle imminent concerns such as reducing gun violence, implementing protections for immigrants and refugees, and community organizing.

A Mikva organizer told us that the expectation in this country is that once individuals turn 18, they are supposed to be responsible and engaged citizens. She then posed an interesting question: How can we set this expectation if we do not provide opportunities for youth to practice civil discourse before coming of age? Students are not passive learners. You learn democracy by doing democracy, or as their tagline states, “democracy is a verb.”

When do you discover purpose? For the students of Mikva, it’s when you open yourself up to purpose and allow it to find you. It’s asking, “How can I be empathetic to the issues that are plaguing my community?” And after discovering those issues, asking, “What actions can I take to resolve these issues and become a leader for peace and justice in my community?”

Volunteer service and community engagement is a pillar of the Greenheart vision. We know that creating a more peaceful and sustainable future requires individuals to step up as agents of change. We do this through our online volunteer portal greenheartclub.org, Greenheart programming, and our Greenheart Service Grants that fund volunteer projects of up to $1,000 across the globe.

Mikva primarily focuses on low-income and under-resourced communities of color. Recently, a student shared that it is easy to feel powerless when you are coming from an area that seems hopeless. Yet, strength is found through taking action in the face of such adversity; a sense of purpose grows in response to witnessing the transformative affect your actions have on your community.

So what can you do to take action in your community? Here are a few things to think about:

Reflect: Do some soul-searching and identify a cause that you are passionate about. What is your unique skillset and how can you use those skills to help create change?

Connect: Become intimately familiar with your community. Speak with neighbors, school administrators, elected officials, and community leaders. Ask them about the strengths and challenges of the community. What is the need here?

Affect: Take your research and devise a plan. Organize an event or a meeting and promote your cause. Think about who needs to be involved, a timeline, and a budget. This is where you take action.

Read the stories of Greenheart volunteers from around the world on our Greenheart Club blog.