These individuals are revered for achieving the monumental: saving more than a thousand Jews from Nazi concentration camps; helping end racial segregation in the Deep South; fighting to the death to rescue hostages as part of the infamous raid on Entebbe in 1976.
But according to the National Liberty Museum, heroes like these also include 8-year-old Katie Schuyler of Cinnaminson, N.J., who raised about $1,100 for Alex's Lemonade Stand, and 12-year-old Alysha Campbell of Lansdowne, who collected some 900 cans of food for the homeless. The museum says the title should also be conferred upon high-schoolers like Stacey Ann Troilo, an advocate for gay-straight relations; Mariana Rodriguez, a lobbyist for Latino issues; and Matthew Cortland, a national spokesman for autism research.
In total, the institution recently singled out 25 "Young Heroes" for effecting positive change in their communities.
The annual awards program, which is cosponsored by Commerce Bank, has been a joint outreach initiative since 2000.
This year's Aug. 16 ceremony was the largest ever, with more than 250 award-winners, parents, teachers, church leaders and other prominent community members packed into the Center City-based museum. Spread across the building's three floors, attendees listened as keynote speaker State Rep. Kathy Manderino (D-194) praised the "leaders of tomorrow" for "taking your idealism and putting it into action."
Building on her remarks, museum director Gwen Borowsky pointed out how well the theme complements her organization's mission of "celebrating courage and accomplishment."
"Heroes are not just grown-ups, and they're not just famous people," insisted Borowsky. "We know there are many, many kids doing great things."
She also noted that the museum will showcase individual student stories in an exhibit called "From Conflict to Harmony."
Two of this year's winners — Dani Joy Noble and Hope Roussilhes — are, in fact, Jewish.
During the ceremony, Roussilhes, 17, of Voorhees, N.J., was praised for her extensive work promoting animal rights. An incoming senior at Eastern Regional High School, Roussilhes has led several fundraising campaigns to benefit the Humane Society of the United States. One of these — a bowl-a-thon — garnered about $20,000 for the protection of baby seals.
And, after discovering that a local horse farm was about to be bulldozed, Roussilhes attended a series of town meetings to voice her disapproval.
"There are lots of important causes, but I think animal rights are really important, basically because animals can't speak for themselves," she explained.
Roussilhes, whose father is French, is also co-president of the French National Honor Society at school and a registered citizen of that country.
Noble, 17, of Wyndmoor, is also a globally minded citizen.
An incoming senior at Springfield Township High School, she founded a student human-rights club last year. She also played a prominent role in organizing the first Philadelphia Youth Conference on Darfur, which drew about 100 area teens for an all-day crash course on the genocide in Sudan.
Noble continued her interest in international engagement this summer at the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools of Excellence, where she spent five weeks studying religion, economics, political theory and communications.
"It really doesn't matter how old you are," she said. "I think that if the commitment is there, and the passion is there for the issue, anything is possible."