New York May 22, 2012 – 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.
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.”