The following is a guest post by Lexy Close who lives in East Tennessee, where she has been a program leader for Summer of Solutions since 2011.  Her program, Build It Up East TN, focuses on food justice and sustainability.

Summer-of-SolutionsIn the face of a falling economy, an energy crisis, fragmented and inequitable communities, and the growing threat of global warming, youth are coming together to create solutions that address all of these challenges together.

These are Solutionaries – youth leaders who work as innovative organizers across issue lines to build the green economy as an engine for local opportunity, climate and energy solutions, and social justice.

Every summer, youth gather in communities across the nation for the Summer of Solutions – a training ground for its participants and a launching pad for the Solutionary vision.  With the support of local partnerships and a national network of fellow solutionaries, participants create self-sustaining projects that have a direct impact on their communities and that serve as models for others to build on.

Running a program gives you the opportunity to create and support green economy projects that build power for people who currently don’t have as much access AND to empower young people from your community and beyond with the skills and strategies they need to do the same thing wherever they go next.

Apply now to run a Summer of Solutions program in your community in 2014!

In 2013, Summer of Solutions programs:

  • Hosted two public forums and submitted an energy efficiency proposal to City Council (Iowa City, IA)

  • Cleaned up a community ravaged by illegal dumping and neglect (Detroit, MI)

  • Grew 350 lbs of organic produce to supply their backyard CSA program (Chicago, IL)

  • Ran a free summer camp for 30 children in the Fruitvale community teaching lessons on sustainability, personal empowerment, and community action (Oakland, CA)

  • Hosted educational workshops teaching community members how to grow organic food, experiment with vertical gardening, make lotions and balms, raise chickens, save seeds, grow shiitake mushrooms, lacto-ferment pickles and krauts, and raise bees for honey (Johnson City, TN)

  • Constructed community gardens at a food bank, veterans’ hospital, and seven other locations (Southern WV)

  • Secured an agreement from Centerpoint Energy to assist Minneapolis in reaching 30% emissions reductions by 2030 and addressing methane leakage in natural gas and secured City Council support for a year-long process to secure clean, affordable, reliable, and local energy (Twin Cities, MN)

  • Managed 7 community gardens, including three gardens at local schools with which they are developing year-round school gardening curricula (Hartford, CT)

Read more about these and other stories at our program pages.

Interested in doing work beyond the summer?

Local Initiatives are year-round sites of solutionary work where emerging leaders focus on designing, testing, and replicating innovative solutions in the green economy. They are, in essence, launching pads for new community project models that could be replicated elsewhere.

Unlike Grand Aspirations’ other programs, Local Initiatives focus less on training and more on project development and implementation. We envision them as the testing grounds for entrepreneurial projects that can out-compete unsustainable economic models while addressing social injustice and building community.

We want to invite YOU to be one of those young people building those solutions. Apply here to start a program in your community. The deadline for summer programs is November 8th. For more details on the guidelines for running a program, including January Training Gatherings and other forms of support, click here.

If you have any questions about what being a program leader entails, please contact Alexis Close at or 423-946-1673.Please share this opportunity with young people and leaders in your community and beyond!

Scott Graber, an inspired art teacher from Pennsylvania

Scott Graber, an inspired art teacher from Pennsylvania

After our winners were chosen for this year’s “What About Peace” contest, we discovered something very interesting about three of the top winning artists; though they used different styles and mediums, they shared one thing in common – their teacher: Scott Graber of West Lawn,Pennsylvania. 

Contest rules require that all What About Peace? contest participants must have a teacher/sponsor in order to participate in the contest. And this year out of hundreds of entries, our Grand, First, AND Second Prize Visual winners all came from artist teacher Scott Graber’s class (not to mention a substantial number of Honorable Mentions!)

Here are the winning pieces from Mr. Graber’s class:

2013 Grand Prize Winner "Untitled"; Kaitlyn Reber

2013 Grand Prize Winner
“Untitled”; Kaitlyn Reber

2013 First Prize Visual Winner "Untitled"; Tyler Reppert, 17 yrs

2013 First Prize Visual Winner “Untitled”; Tyler Reppert, 17 yrs

WAP2013Cristina Serban Second Prize_0

2013 Second Prize Visual Winner “Untitled”; Cristina Serban, 18 yrs

We wondered how this teacher inspired such thoughtful work and decided to give him a call. 

It turns out Scott Graber has been teaching art for 14 years and has one of the most dedicated and inspiring teaching styles. We asked him what he did to open his students up to the message of peace. Here’s what he did:

He started with a class discussion about peace – from inner peace to world peace and then showed a slide show of the vibrant, anti-war pop culture posters of

A Few of the classic pieces that art teacher Scott Graber shared with his students for inspiration

Peter Max to experience how to make art with a message. They listened to John Lennon’s “Imagine” and listed the emotions, moods, colors and images that came to their minds. The students loved to talk about Peace, Graber reported, exploring conspiracy theories, dream-like utopias and world affairs.

Then he had the students prepare three or more thumbnail sketches of their ideas, keeping to the question: Is my message evident?  They displayed their sketches and the whole class discussed which composition worked best. Then each student chose her or his medium, the size of the piece and got to work.  

As they worked Graber continued to encourage and ask if the students were working to their full potential – reminding them that their name would be on the finished piece and represents them, teaching strategies he learned from the biggest influence in his life – his own high school art teacher.

All in all the process lasted 3 weeks from start to finish, with lots of great conversations about peace and some really creative answers to the question: “What About Peace?”

Inspiration can be passed from teacher to student to the world in more ways than you always know.   Thank you Scott Graber for your inspiration!


A wall of beautiful art!

Wall of beautiful art!

154 poems
77 essays
30 short stories
77 paintings
66 graphics and
31 photos

It is going to be hard to select the winners of this year’s What About Peace contest  but the jury is hard at work doing just that.

Our jury consists of a book store owner, an author, a published essayist and a blogger, an artist from Cuba, an activist, a portrait painter, a landscape photographer, and muralist all dedicated to giving their full attention to all the work presented to the “What About Peace” contest by young people from around the world.

Pam Totah says " How are we going to choose?'

Pam Totah says “How are we going to choose?”

Every written piece is read by four people; evaluating them for craft and content. All of the visual pieces have been hung in the conference room to be seen by the jury next week.  What are the most compelling messages of peace? What are the most original?

For now, as the room is used for meetings of all sorts, everyone gets to view and enjoy the incredible talent of the 14 -20 year old students who know how they feel about peace.

The winners will be announced on the What About Peace? Facebook page on April 22th, so “like” our page  to see all of the fabulous winners!


Update on 2/18/2013: The call for submissions is now closed. Thanks to ALL who submitted entries. We are overwhelmed by the beauty and thoughtfulness of the pieces. Next, we move on to the most difficult part of this contest; choosing winners from among the hundreds of inspiring entries!

Believe it or not, the entry deadline for the 2013 What About Peace? youth art contest is less than a week away. (Where does the time go?!)

Now in its eighth year, an interesting shift has been happening this year…we’ve been receiving a much higher percentage of international entries than in years’ past. Word has spread globally about this art contest that challenges youth between 14-20 to creatively answer the question: ‘What About Peace?’

In addition to entries from all around the U.S. we’ve received artwork from Nepal, Uganda, Ukraine, and the list goes on!

Worth sharing is this excerpt from a sweet letter we received this week from a What About Peace? teacher sponsor named Olga:

Best wishes from far-away Ukraine! First, let me thank you for giving my pupils an excellent opportunity to express their thoughts about peace creatively. They, like other millions of teenagers, think about peace all over the world and try to share their ideas with others. They are sure “if you draw, if you write, if you take photos- it means you dream about it. And dreams, if they are pure, light, important for everybody, MUST COME TRUE”. You do VERY important thing by involving the youth to dream about peace, because those who dream about it, will NEVER be able to destroy; they will build, create our happy peaceful future.

Wow, thanks Olga for these eloquent words. Peace is certainly universal!

Take-ActionTAKE ACTION! For You Last-Minute Peace-Seekers…

What About Peace? Deadline: All entries must be received to our office by February 15th, 2013. Visit What About Peace? for entry details.

Prizes! Prizes will be given in two categories: written (essay, poem, short story) and visual (painting, collage, photography and graphic).

  • GRAND PRIZE is $1000 in any category
  • First Place –$300 each for the best written entry and $300 for best visual entry
  • Second Place– $150 in each category
  • Sponsor/Teacher’s prizes –$100 for Grand prize and first prize

Want to enter? Visit our information page.

Questions? Contact with questions.

And remember the wise words of Olga, “those who dream about it, will NEVER be able to destroy; they will build, create our happy peaceful future.”



2013 What About Peace? entries

Peace is Universal!

The deadline for this year’s What About Peace? contest is fast approaching and young people from all around the world are heeding the call to share their answers to the question: What About Peace?  We’ve welcomed questions from Colombia, Kenya, Haiti and Vietnam asking if the contest was open to international submissions.

Yes!  Peace is Universal. If you are 14 -20 years old tell us how YOU answer this question in your community.


2013 What About Peace? entries

Write a poem, tell a story, share your opinion in a perfectly crafted essay or try something visual with a photo, painting or graphic.  Your own creativity is the only limitation (that and the age and artwork size guidelines, of course!)

Yes, there are prizes!  Prizes will be given in two categories – written and visual with a grand prize of $1000 for the best over all.

February 15th will be the last day we can accept your submission so don’t wait. Enter today, and/or spread the word!

Our future depends on young people’s commitment to a peaceful world, what is yours?


“What About Peace?” by Christina Scheblein

Global Exchange has been a part of the What About Peace? youth art contest for six years, but this is the first year we’re offering notecards featuring some of the artwork. We’re quite excited about this, and hope you are too!

For this first run, we’re offering a collection of three beautiful designs, all past “Honorable Mention” winners.

The cards are available now for your holiday and New Year’s greetings!

The card designs reflect the urgent, dignified and playful call for peace envisioned by three talented young What About Peace? contestants.

A  set of 9 cards (3 of each design) is yours for a $10 donation to the project. The 4” by 5 ½” cards are blank inside with plenty of room for your personal holiday greeting (or any greeting for that matter, since peace is embraceable year-round.)

“Peace Comes From Within” by Allie Witham

Here’s more about the artists:

  • Christina Schebleim of New York has created a colorful watercolor grid of peace signs subtly including the words change and possibility in the pattern.
  • Alayna Miller from Michigan calls on us to “Take Time to Converse About Peace” with a playful circle of sneakers spelling out the word “Peace”.
  • Allie Whitham of Oregon’s peace dove, “Peace Comes from Within” is constructed of hundreds of black and white peace doves with a simple olive branch in its beak.

“Time to Converse about Peace” by Alayna Miller


  • Support the contest designed to give creative voice to youth who want to engage in the dialogue for peace: Order your Peace cards today!
  • What About Contest Seeking 2013 Entries Now! Do you know any 14 – 20 year olds? Send them this link to the contest guidelines. – The deadline is February 15. More than $2500 in prizes are offered to winners and their sponsors.
  • Keep up with the What About Peace? contest: “Like” What About Peace? on Facebook.

What About Peace? is a Global Exchange international arts contest for youth ages 14 – 20 to express ideas and thoughts about peace by responding to the question, “What About Peace?” through artistic expression.

With the submission deadline just one day away, it is finally time to announce who this year’s What About Peace? Grand Judge is, and that person is….drum roll please…

Rae Abileah!!!

What About Peace 2012 Grand Judge Rae Abileah

Rae Abileah is the co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace (  She is also a founding member of Young Jewish Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace. Rae is a contributing author to 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military; Sisters Singing: Incantations, Blessings, Chants, Prayers, Art and Sacred Stories by Women; Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Stories of Jewish Peace Activists; and Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution.  Her articles have been published on Mondoweiss, AlterNet, Common Dreams, Pink Tank, and she has guest blogged for Global Exchange.

Please join me in welcoming Rae as this year’s What About Peace? Grand Judge. Rae is a shining example of what it takes to be a truly dedicated activist, role model, and leader in the struggle for justice around the world! Last year Kirsten Moller served as the Grand Judge.

The "What About Peace?" art contest submission table

Submissions are pouring in as the deadline approaches. All entries must be received in our office on or before February 15th, 2012 to qualify. The Grand prize is $1000, but more than $2500 in total prizes will be awarded. Check out for all the contest details.

On my way to lunch this afternoon, I passed a big pile of incoming mail. The person watching the front desk area told me “Most of these are “What About Peace?” submissions. Crazy, huh?”

I picked one envelope up out of curiosity. The return address said Philippines.

“So cool,” I thought. Each one of these art submissions was created by a young person…poems and short stories, photographs and paintings. Graphic designs, essays and cartoons. Piles of submissions, all about peace. All by young people. From all over the world.

Yes, so cool. And now that we have a cool Grand Judge, we are gearing up for the big announcement. Who will be crowned this year’s What About Peace winner? Stay tuned.


"Unity" 1st place painting winner by Christopher Minafo 15 years old, New York

We hear a lot of talk about war, violence and destruction, but what about peace?  This important question is the inspiration behind our international arts contest, aptly named What About Peace? The contest is for youth ages 14 – 20 to express ideas and thoughts about peace by responding to the question, “What About Peace?” through artistic expression.

Though the contest is in full swing and the deadline is closing in, there is still time to enter. All entries must be received in our office on or before February 15th, 2012 to qualify.

"What About Peace" 2012 submission table

I meandered over to the contest submission area at our office today to peek at the entries, and I have to say, I got a little verklempt. There are some really inspiring pieces already in, organized in boxes by category, with bigger pieces stacked behind. A surprisingly large haul of photographs and poems. Cool!

But I’m not the only one. Throughout the workday today I could hear other Global Exchange staffers milling about the contest submission table, checking out the newest arrivals.

Of course it’s not up to us who wins the big $1,000 prize. That will be up to the grand judge (to be announced soon right here on our People to People blog.) Last year Global Exchange’s Kirsten Moller was the What About Peace? grand judge and shared her reflections in this blog post about the contest winner.

The Contest Accepted Mediums are:

  • Telling a story (up to 500 words)
  • Writing an essay (up to 500 words)
  • Creating a poem (up to 200 words)
  • Painting a picture or collage (up to 18” x 24”)
  • Taking a photo (up to 11” x 14” on photo paper)
  • Designing a graphic, poster or comic strip/cartoon (up to 18”x24”)

It’s not too late to enter! If you are between the ages of 14-20 enter today. If you are a teacher, counselor or youth worker, please encourage your students to apply.

Download entry form here.

Download contest flyer to share with teachers here.

The Grand prize is $1000, but more than $2500 in total prizes will be awarded. Check out for all the entry details.


  • You must be between 14 and 20 years of age to participate.
  • One entry per person…One person per entry.
  • Entries won’t be returned. What About Peace? has the right to use any and all entries on our website, in displays, and in publicity for the contest. Copyright belongs to the entrant.
  • Be sure that you and your teacher/sponsor understand our stance on copying and plagiarism.  They are not allowed.
  • Send your entry and the form to What About Peace ? at 2017 Mission Street, 2nd floor, San Francisco, CA 94110;  All entries must be received in our office on or before February 15th, 2012.


  • The sponsor/teacher of each winner will be notified of their winner(s) by US Mail.
  • All winning entries will be posted on our website, on April 20th, 2012.
  • Sponsors/teachers will present What About Peace? awards in our name.
  • All winning entries will be posted on our website on April 20th, 2012.

SPREAD THE WORD! An easy way to spread the word about this exciting contest is to Share and Tweet this post (buttons on top right of post.) Here’s to a peaceful tomorrow.


The following post was written by Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. (Green Economy Leadership Training) program participant Kate Powers:

I am working with several other participants on a project that is part of Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. program called Operation We Squat.

Our project is one of four G.E.L.T. group projects taking place over the course of nine weeks, the others focusing on solar energy, urban agriculture and waste repurposing, respectively.

G.E.L.T. aims to build a new, clean energy economy in Highland Park through education, training, and community participation. Major aspects of G.E.L.T. include permaculture, renewable energy, and infrastructure redevelopment. This program centers around improving people’s lives by creating a healthy economic and social community in Highland Park by using a sustainable model that can be repeated in other cities around the country.

Operation We Squat plans to address a major problem in post-industrial cities– abandoned, rundown houses. The usual response to this problem is demolition of the residence, dumping the materials into landfills. This process is energy-demanding and labor insensitive while preventing community advancement and adding little long-term value to the city. O.W.S. wants to demonstrate an alternative solution to abandoned homes in urban areas. The project plans to find the most effective ways to transform neglected houses into beneficial, sustainable representations of community.

The time frame of this project is June 7th to August 7th. The house: 76 Grove Street. The GELTers involved are Lauren, Matt, Mike, and myself (Kate). The team leads are Marion and Scott.

On Thursday, the group assembled and visited 76 Grove Street, for most of us it was our first time. Overgrown grass and weeds engulfed the yard while trash and broken glass filled the alleyway. Inside was not much better, the first floor consisted of discarded furniture and boarded up windows. After viewing the basement and the second floor it was evident that previous squatters had allowed their pet(s) to run wild.

For me, the most disheartening part of the house was not the dirt and grim or the broken windows and furniture, it was the deserted, child-made mother’s day card and the baby furniture and bottles left behind. The house was not completely vacated but rather it was almost as if, in the words of Marion, a hurricane came through destroying the inside of the home, taking the residents with it, but leaving traces of the family’s life. Lauren even found a film strip containing family photos– the family members that once lived in the house are now like ghosts, their abandoned possessions just glimpses of their past lives.

A few first impressions from the group are as follow:

  • Marion- Transformation through community and group cooperation
  • Matt- 76 Grove has a lot of potential
  • Mike- Great importance in having the home be a “community space with function”
  • As a group we decided that the first step of our project would be to cut the grass and have a bulk clean-up/trash pick-up as well as engage the community in some ways to include their input in the project.

Group Roles are as follow:

  • Marion: Timeline/Vision/Oversee
  • Scott: Resources/Oversee
  • Lauren: Community outreach
  • Mike: Find sources of inspiration/Similar models in the area
  • Matt: Internal workings of the house
  • Kate: Front and back yard/Story creation

If all goes as planned Operation We Squat will improve the lives and environment of Grove Street community members. However, in order for this project to have more than just an isolated impact on Grove Street, the steps taken must be repeatable and act as a model for the greater Detroit area, Michigan, and other parts of the United States. So as things progress, I’ll blog again about this project and the steps we’re taking to transform an abandoned house into something that can strengthen a community and create more sustainable systems within a city. Who knows, maybe sharing our story will aid others involved in similar conquests.

Until next time,