Heroes of the Year
Why: Because of her determination to reopen a school in New Orleans' devastated Lower Ninth Ward. "This neighborhood is not doomed," says Hicks (on Sept. 20, with Tamaya Dixon, 7 (left), and Tione Johnson, 7, students at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science & Technology).
The Surviving Parents Coalition
Why: Because they have dedicated themselves to keeping kids safe from child predators. "This cause deserves an army," says Erin Runnion (far left, with fellow parents, from left, Marc and Violet Klaas, Mika Moulton and Sharon Brooks, in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 28.) Runnion's daughter Samantha, 5, was abducted on July 15, 2002, and found dead the next day.
Why: Because he adopted his troubled sister's young boys—when he was barely an adult himself. "I'm just an average Joe, doing what I have to do," says Democko (on Sept. 27, his 24th birthday, with, from left, Christopher, 6, George, 3, and Anthony, 5).
Judy and Jerry Horton
OWNERS, DOWN HOME RANCH
Why: Because in wondering what the future would hold for their daughter Kelly, born with Down syndrome, they created a unique residence for young adults with disabilities. "All of us parents had dreams that were shattered by the births of our special-needs children," says Judy (with Jerry and Kelly, 23, on Sept. 8 in Elgin, Texas). "But new dreams took their place."
Mark Maksimowicz and Vince and Jeff Albanese
Why: Because they decided to clean up their corner of the earth, one piece of trash at a time. (Mark Maksimowicz, left, with Vince Albanese, center, and Jeff Albanese, in Tampa Bay Sept. 10.)
Tune in to CBS's The Early Show from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 for profiles of this year's heroes; you can watch clips at www.cbsnews.com/earlyshow. To read PEOPLE's original stories, go to www.people.com/heroesamongus.