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Maria Gomez and Victoria Soto are honored with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. President Barack Obama presents Donna and Carlos Soto Sr. with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor, on behalf of their daughter Victoria Soto in the East Room of the White House February 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. First grad teacher, Victoria Soto was killed during a mass shooting that left 26 people dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. "Their selflessness and courage inspire us all to look for opportunities to better serve our communities and our country," Obama said about this year's recepients. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Today, President Barack Obama presented the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, to 18 Americans whose work has had a significant impact to their communities.

Among the recipients was Maria Gomez, a Colombian immigrant from Washington, DC, who 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. 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.

The parents of Victoria Soto, accepted the award for their daughter, who was among 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. 

This year, nearly 6,000 public nominations from the public were submitted.