A Cuban-American couple from Miami - she, a teacher; he, an attorney - who volunteer countless hours a month to bringing relief to the forgotten children of the Dominican Republic's infrahuman orphanages.
A Mexican-American priest from East Los Angeles, who has dedicated his life to giving solace to Latino immigrants fleeing from economic oppression in their native countries only to live in constant fear of being deported from their adopted land.
A caring Latina mother of two from Houston, who started a support network for other Hispanic parents with children suffering from severe disabilities.
A former Latina Wall Street broker assistant from New York, who after staring death in the face and living to talk about it, went on to create the first Hispanic non-profit organization in the country dedicated to helping victims of hepatic diseases.
A 70-year-old Cuban exile and former Palm Beach County Public Schools health worker, who in her retirement has become a revered advocate for the needy migrant families of that southern Florida community.
Four women and two men. Their names: Lourdes and Frank Valladares, Father Richard Estrada, Mercedes E. Alejandro, Debbie Delgado Vega, and Caridad Asensio, respectively. All six of them are the first-ever Hispanic recipients of the prestigious Jefferson Awards for public service. The announcement was made here today by the awards' new Hispanic media partner, Radio Unica.
After signing a historic partnership with the AIPS early this year, Hispanic America's talk and sports radio network launched a three-month-long, on-air campaign in February aimed at encouraging Latinos throughout the country to submit nominations for this year's awards. The campaign, which proved tremendously successful, became the first time in the awards' three-decade-old history that the American Institute for Public Service, reached out on a massive scale to recognize the contributions of America's outstanding Hispanic volunteers. Dozens of nominations poured in to the network's Miami headquarters over the following 12 weeks.
On June 19, Radio Unica Chairman and CEO Joaquín Blaya will join the winners in the nation's capital, where the AIPS will also be honoring him with a special "Lifetime Achievement Award" for more than 30 years of "leadership and commitment to volunteerism and service to the nation." The ceremonies will include a special visit to the White House, a Gala Dinner at the International Trade Building, the awards ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court, and meetings with senators and other national leaders.
Radio Unica is also organizing local ceremonies in the winners' individual communities in July, at which time each will receive the official Jefferson Award - a bronze replica of the Great Seal of the United States, designed and donated by The Franklin Mint, and signed on the back by the two of the awards' most prominent founders, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Sen. Robert Taft, Jr.
"It is an enormous honor and a humbling experience for the AIPS to confer on me an award it has bestowed in the past to such illustrious Americans as former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Dr. Henry Kissinger, George Mitchell and General Colin Powell, among others," Mr. Blaya said. "Far more important than that fact, however, is for its directors finally to have understood the importance of reaching out to our nation's Spanish-speaking population. The Jefferson Awards are the Nobel Prize of America's public service sector, and deliberately seeking out Hispanics to receive such a major distinction is a testament to the significance our community rightfully has achieved."
"Since the founding of the Jefferson Awards in 1972, the Latino population of our nation has mushroomed, and today thousands of Americans, whose language of preference is Spanish, contribute countless hours to volunteerism and public service," AIPS President and Co-founder Sam Beard said. "Their contributions needed to be recognized, and thanks to Radio Unica and Joaquin Blaya, we will be doing that this year for the very first time."
Founded by Mr. Beard, in conjunction with Mrs. Kennedy Onassis and Sen. Taft, the Jefferson Awards recognize and honor ordinary Americans who dedicate their time and energies to enriching their communities through volunteer service. To be nominated, individuals need to have performed an inordinate amount of work on behalf of the disadvantaged or underprivileged - including children, the elderly, the sick or needy - or have contributed in some lasting manner to their community at large.
About The Jefferson Awards
The Awards are presented on two levels: local and national. On the local level, Jefferson Awards recipients are ordinary people who do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition or reward. These individuals are not major elected or appointed officials, nor individuals who already have obvious widespread public visibility. Rather, they must be "unsung heroes or heroines," who have volunteered their time and resources to better their communities. These local volunteers are nominated through the nationwide network of Jefferson Awards media sponsors - newspapers, radio and television stations, and cable systems, of which Radio Unica is now part.
National award recipients represent the "Who's Who" of outstanding Americans whose public service has impacted the country as a whole. Names of past winners include, Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Walter Cronkite, Marianne Wright Edelman, John Gardner, John Glenn, Katharine Graham, Alan Greenspan, Bob Hope, Hubert Humphrey, Dr. Henry Kissinger, George Mitchell and General Colin Powell.