(CNN) — Efren Peñaflorida, who started a “pushcart classroom” in the Philippines to bring education to poor children as an alternative to gang membership, has been named the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper revealed Peñaflorida’s selection at the conclusion of the third-annual “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Saturday night.
The gala event, taped before an audience of 3,000 at the Kodak Theatre, premieres on Thanksgiving, November 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the global networks of CNN.
The broadcast, which honors the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2009, features performances by Grammy Award-winning artist Carrie Underwood, R&B crooner Maxwell and British pop sensation Leona Lewis.
Peñaflorida, who will receive $100,000 to continue his work with the Dynamic Teen Company, was selected after seven weeks of online voting at CNN.com. More than 2.75 million votes were cast.
“Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry,” Peñaflorida said upon accepting the honor. “Each person has a hidden hero within, you just have to look inside you and search it in your heart, and be the hero to the next one in need.
“So to each and every person inside this theater and for those who are watching at home, the hero in you is waiting to be unleashed. Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve. As I always tell to my co-volunteers … you are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be.”
The top 10 CNN Heroes, chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from an initial pool of more than 9,000 viewer nominations, were each honored with a documentary tribute and introduced by a celebrity presenter. Each of the top 10 Heroes receives $25,000.
“With the recognition they receive on our stage,” said Cooper, who hosted the tribute, “they’ll be able to help thousands and thousands of people. Through their efforts, lives will be changed and lives will be saved.”
Underwood performed an original orchestral arrangement of “Change” from her best-selling album, “Play On.”
Maxwell sang “Help Somebody” from his first album in eight years, ‘BLACKsummers’night.’
Lewis, a three-time Grammy nominee, performed “Happy,” from her second album, “Echo.”
All three performances echoed the spirit of the CNN Heroes campaign, which salutes everyday people whose extraordinary accomplishments are making a difference in their communities and beyond.
Presenters included Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Neil Patrick Harris, Pierce Brosnan, Dwayne Johnson, Eva Mendes, Randy Jackson, Greg Kinnear, George Lopez and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
“This record number of nominations is further evidence of the momentum CNN Heroes has built in just a few short years,” said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide.
“Viewers have been engaged by these stories of inspiration and accomplishment beyond our expectations. It is truly an honor to be able to introduce the CNN Heroes to our global audience every year.”
Again this year, producer/director Joel Gallen served as executive producer of “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute.” Among his credits, Gallen produced telethon events supporting victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, winning an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award for “America: A Tribute to Heroes.”
The Kodak Theatre is best known as the first permanent home of the Academy Awards.
A Real Filipino hero, an achiever. MABUHAY KA EFREN…