Recent grad gets humanitarian award

Alex Alvanos, ’09, with President Joseph Aoun. Photo by Craig Bailey.

May 6, 2009

Recent graduate Alex Alvanos was honored last month with a prestigious national award for student humanitarians.

At an April 7 ceremony in Raytheon Amphitheater, Alvanos was presented with the 2008 Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award for his innovative approach to social and educational issues in the community. Alvanos, founder of Social Change through Peace Games, was honored specifically for his dedication to helping Boston public school students resolve conflict nonviolently. Currently, the organization partners with three Boston schools, reaching more than 700 students.

Alvanos is now working on a post-graduation business plan for a “human development index” that would be used as a guide for potential donors to rate nonprofits on tangible results.

The Swearer award is given to only five college students nationwide, each of whom has shown an extraordinary commitment to improving their local and global communities. The award was presented to Alvanos by Barbara Canyes of Massachusetts Campus Compact, the state affiliate of the national college consortium that promotes student civic engagement.

Several speakers lauded Alvanos during the ceremony, including one of his mentors and Eric Dawson, founder of the original global violence remediation organization Peace Games, which later served as a launching pad for Alvanos’ Social Change program.

“Thank you for believing in what hadn’t been done — for seeing the possible in the impossible,” said Dawson.

Dawson also noted in his remarks that after only three years, Alvanos’ group has 124 Northeastern students involved in the program. “He built an institution,” Dawson said. “He built a system. He built leaders.” True humanitarians, he added, should be judged not by what they do while they’re here, but by what they leave behind.

Alvanos, an international affairs major who has also traveled to Thailand and Palestine to serve the underprivileged, was hired by Northeastern’s Center of Community Service in as a co-op for Dawson’s Peace Games, which then had a program at the Maurice J. Tobin School in the Mission Hill neighborhood. Teachers there, Alvanos said, were “done with” the Peace Games curriculum and wanted to move on; instead, he saw an opportunity to revitalize the program.

He recruited six fellow Northeastern students to expand and transform the program, and the next semester they recruited 20 more, forming the Northeastern group Social Change through Peace Games.

The elementary school pupils appreciate the project, Alvanos said. “They get math, science and English all day long. They never really had an opportunity to learn how to build friendships or deal with conflict, and do that in a fun way,” he said. “They really see the value in that.”

The project has also given Northeastern students “an opportunity to express themselves as they make concrete change in the lives of youths,” he said. “They start to change themselves. If you can create long-term change in Northeastern students, and connect it to the local community, that’s a positive.”

By Jim Chiavelli

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