CHICAGO (CBS) — More than 500 high school students from around the world were in Chicago this week, to take part in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation (HOBY) conference.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports students spent several hours sprucing up the grounds at Humboldt Park on Tuesday.

HOBY president and CEO Javier LaFianza said this week’s events were designed to help students identify their passions, and where they want to make a difference in the world.

“These people are amazing. These young people are making a difference. I could take all day telling you stories,” he said.

Brooklyn Bobo, a 16-year-old from Hinckley, Illinois,

“I really, for the first time in my life, felt like I had a connection with myself; which I know sounds strange, but HOBY brings out the very best in people, and it brings out the truth in people,” she said.

Brooklyn said she always knew she was a leader, but didn’t know what to do with that.

“HOBY is teaching me so many ways to actively be a leader, rather than just kind of … know that you’re different . So, yeah, it’s just really amazing. It just makes you take action, rather than knowing that you should take action,” she said.

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports Israeli teen Liel Tzor-Deker is torn about being here with Israel under bombardment with rockets from Gaza.

“I’m happy to be here because we have very quiet, but all my family and my friends are in Israel and it’s hard to don’t be with them,” Tzordeker said.

Taber Sahir came to the conference from Iraq. He said he’d take what he’s learned through the program back home to make a difference in his community.

“Before I met HOBY, I was lonely; in a dark place. HOBY was like sun that shines in the dark, and got me out of my dark place. HOBY inspired me,” he said.

He said HOBY has helped him learn about himself, and how he can be a positive influence back home.

It was a challenge just getting Taber and other Iraqi students to Chicago for the conference. They had a hunger strike to convince their parents to allow them to go through Baghdad.