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President Obama calls the Citizens Medal ceremony his favorite White House event because it honors ordinary Americans for extraordinary service. Two of the 18 people honored are from the D.C. area.
Two local residents received the honor of a lifetime Friday: President Obama gave each the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal.
Maria Gomez, the founder of Mary's Center, and Terry Shima, the former director of the Japanese American Veterans Association, were among the 18 recipients this year from among more than 6,000 nominations.
The President also posthumously honored six victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy in the White House ceremony.
Gomez founded and currently serves as the CEO and president of Mary's Center in the District. The center, which was founded in 1988, provides health care, literacy and social services to people whose needs often are unmet by public and private systems.
The center is also helping to launch First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Read, Let's Move" campaign.
Before founding the center, Gomez spent time as a public health nurse with the D.C. Department of Health and worked for the Red Cross and Visiting Nurses Association.
Shima served as the executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association from 2004 until 2012, and is currently the chair of its outreach and education committee. The nonprofit organization works to assist Japanese-American veterans and their families and make their needs public.
In 1944, Shima was drafted into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, which was made up of Japanese Americans who volunteered for combat.
The Presidential Citizens Medal is considered the nation's second-highest civilian honor, behind the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was established in 1969 and recognizes those who perform exemplary deeds of service to their country or fellow citizens.
This year the award was given to people who have made a significant impact on their communities but who may not have received national attention.