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CNN Salutes Finalists For 'Heroes' Initiative

Culminating a five-month nomination process, CNN has revealed the 18 finalists for its first-ever awards program, “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” which celebrates ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. The show, hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour will air live globally on CNN/U.S., CNN International and CNN en Espanol on Dec. 6 at 9 p.m.

In its first year, the Heroes initiative received more than 7,000 nominees from 90 countries by viewers in 80 nations. From May 1 through September, CNN Worldwide has featured everyday heroes across its TV networks, digital properties and at www.CNN.com/Heroes, encouraging viewers to nominate local heroes they deem deserving of recognition as a CNN Hero.

The 18 honorees, each of whom have already been bestowed with a $10,000 cash prize, will be saluted at the Dec. 6 gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City that will include performances from Grammy Award winners Mary J. Blige and Sheryl Crow and a duet by Grammy Award winner Norah Jones and acclaimed performer-producer Wyclef Jean. Revealed during the telecast, the winner in each of the six categories will be awarded an additional $25,000.

The finalists from the six categories are:

* Medical Marvels: Peter Kithene of Seattle, who founded a clinic in his native Kenya that has provided services to more than 18,000 patients; Ann McGee of Las Vegas, who started a transportation program to provide free medical flights for families with gravely ill children; and S. Ramakrishnan of Ayikudy, India, a quadriplegic man who runs one of that nation’s largest centers for the disabled.

* Young Wonder: Kayla Cornale, 18, of Burlington, Canada, who developed a musical system to improve communications with autistic people; Dallas Jessup, 15, of Vancouver, Wash., who produced a video and an online program designed to teach young women and girls how to escape an attacker; and Josh Miller, 17, of Santa Monica, Calif., who established a student-run nonprofit group dedicated to motivating high school students of all backgrounds to succeed in school and life.

* Championing Children: Dr. Rick Hodes of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who has served as a conduit for children of that nation to receive essential vaccinations, surgeries and other medical procedures; Scott Loeff of Chicago, who founded a camp for children with Tourette Syndrome to enable them to fit in with other children; and Steve Peifer of Kijabe, Kenya, who combated severe dropout rates in that country by ensuring that more than 11,000 children have daily lunches at school and access to computers.

*Community Crusader: James McDowell, a U.S. Army sergeant major led efforts to encourage Afghan farmers to switch from growing poppies to equally profitable saffron bulbs; Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe of Gulu, Uganda, who opened a school in her town to rehabilitate girls devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army; and Julie Rems-Smario of Oakland, Calif., who founded a nonprofit agency that serves deaf survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

* Defending The Planet: Florence Cassassuce of La Paz, Mexico, who invented a five-gallon bucket that can purify several days’ worth of water in four minutes; Irania Martinez Garcia of Guantanamo, Cuba, who has taught hundreds of residents to learn how to grow food efficiently while using organic and sustainable materials from the local dump and their own trash; and Mark Maksimowicz of St. Petersburg, Fla., who co-founded a volunteer armada of boats to help clean up North American coasts.

* Fighting For Justice: Pablo Fajardo of Lago Agrio, Ecuador, who seeks to force one of the world’s largest oil corporations to pay more than $6 billion to clean up toxic waste in the Amazon rain forest; Rangina Hamidi of Stone Ridge, Va., who founded a company that enables women in her native Afghanistan to make money from their intricate embroidery skills; and Lynwood Hughes of Rocky Mount, N.C., who started a nonprofit group to help U.S. veterans secure their disability benefits.

“We’re honored to shine the spotlight on some of the world’s lesser-known heroes with the help of an esteemed slate of performers and presenters,” said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, in a statement. “While other awards programs venerate those who are already celebrated, we are recognizing the unheralded, the ones who accomplish great things without the benefit of recognition.”