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3 Southern Californians among winners of Presidential Citizens Medal

October 20, 2011 |  5:11 pm

Judith Broder Presidential Citizens Medal

President Obama awarded Presidential Citizens Medals on Thursday to three Angelenos for providing mental health services to veterans and creating a music program for gang members.

Judith Broder of the Soldiers Project, John Keaveney of the New Directions shelter and Margaret Martin of the Harmony Project joined 10 other recipients from across the nation for an awards ceremony at the White House.

Before awarding the medals, Obama spoke about how many honorees had mustered the courage to be a good Samaritan during their own time of pain and need.

“In these difficult times, it’s easier than ever to walk on by. We can tell ourselves: ‘I’ve got enough problems of my own.’ ‘I can’t make a big enough difference.’ ‘If my neighbors are less fortunate, maybe it’s their fault,’ ” said Obama, reiterating a theme from many of his recent American Jobs Act speeches.

“But as Americans, that’s not who we are. Because while, yes, we are a nation of individuals, we're also a community. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. That’s a creed we all share.”

More than 6,000 people were recommended for the honor. Eight of this year's honorees are women.

“I notice that once again the women outnumber the men,” Obama said, prompting laughter. “I’m beginning to see a pattern here.”

Martin started the Harmony Project after noticing that gang members who stopped by a Hollywood market listened intently to a child playing Brahms on violin. In 2001, she founded the program, which provides instruments and free music lessons to thousands of children living in neighborhoods plagued with gangs.

Keaveney, a Vietnam War veteran who grappled with mental health issues for years, founded the New Directions shelter for homeless and disabled veterans in 1992. Since then, he has worked to provide veterans with clothes, a place to stay and an income.

Broder, who founded the Soldiers Project, has recruited more than 600 therapists who have provided more than 7,400 hours of free counseling to veterans and their families. The therapists work on reducing the disruptive effects of repeated deployments, as well as of post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, domestic violence and depression.

The Citizens Medal was established in 1969 to honor Americans who have performed exemplary deeds of service for communities large and small. This is the second year the nomination process, which opens in May, has been open to the public.


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 -- Alexa Vaughn in Washington D.C.

Photo: President Obama presents the Presidential Citizens Medal to Judith Broder, founder of the Soldiers Project. Credit: Astrid Riecken / McClatchy-Tribune