NBC Latino

Maria Gomez and the late Victoria Soto to be honored by President Obama

Today, the White House announced the recipients of the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor — second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama will award them on February 15, 2013.

Nearly 6,000 public nominations from the public were submitted, and the President selected 18 Americans whose work has had a significant impact on their communities but may not have received national attention. Maria Gomez, a Colombian immigrant from Washington, DC, and the late Newtown teacher of Puerto Rican descent, Victoria Soto, were two of those Americans.

Gomez founded the community based non-profit, Mary’s Center, 25 years ago — which serves low-income, immigrant families, with linguistic and cultural obstacles, with an array of healthcare and literacy programs. It is also part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Read, Let’s Move Campaign.”

Gomez was a public health nurse with the D.C. Department of Health prior to founding the Center, and she has also worked for the Red Cross. She currently serves as Regional Representative for the South East to the National Council of la Raza, and previously served on the board of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington.

Victoria Soto was one of the six courageous teachers who lost their lives on December 14, 2012, as a result of the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Not only was she known for her love of teaching, but she demonstrated the strength of her devotedness by hiding her students in a closet and telling the shooter, Adam Lanza, they were in another part of the building.  Lanza then shot and killed her.

“It is my distinguished honor to award these individuals the 2012 Citizens Medal for their commitment to public service,” said President Obama in a statement. “Their selflessness and courage inspire us all to look for opportunities to better serve our communities and our country.”