NEW YORK, April 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- (http://www.myprgenie.com) -- Capt. Scotty Smiley, the U.S. Army's first blind active-duty officer, and Shannon Hickey, a 21-year old college student who, at age 11, was inspired to help provide for the poor and homeless by the example of Father Mychal Judge, the New York City Fire Dept. Chaplain killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, will both receive special Awards at the 62nd annual Christopher Awards ceremony in New York City on Thursday, May 19th.
Capt. Smiley, who was nearly killed while leading his platoon on patrol in Iraq in 2005, will receive the Christopher Leadership Award for his exemplary courage and leadership in the face of adversity. He opted not to retire from the Army, as is customary after a life-changing injury, but instead fought to regain his health and went on to command the Warrior Transition Unit for ailing or wounded soldiers at West Point. Hickey will receive the 2011 James Keller Award for founding Mychal's Message, a ministry that serves the poor and homeless, and which has taught many teens about the problem of homelessness in society.
The Christopher Leadership Award recognizes individuals whose work, actions and example serve as a guiding light to those in and out of public life, and inspires others to lead lives that make a difference for the good. This year's winner barely survived the shrapnel and debris that pierced his eyes and brain following a car bomb attack in Iraq. Crushed by the news he would never see again, Captain Smiley at first questioned his faith and his belief in God.
During his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army pressured his wife to follow standard procedure by signing papers that would "medically retire" her husband, since it was accepted wisdom that blind people couldn't serve in the Army. She resisted, believing her husband might still have a future within the Army he loved.
After tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual struggles, Capt. Smiley came to terms with his new reality and successfully fought to stay on active duty. Along with teaching leadership at West Point, he also earned an MBA from Duke University with assistance from his wife and a dedicated tutor, and wrote an autobiography, "Hope Unseen."
With the vast number of American servicemen and women returning from war with serious injuries, his job is of critical importance as is the example he is setting. He remains committed to living a life of service to others and admits his trust in God has been taken to new levels.
The James Keller Award -- named after The Christophers' founder -- has, since 1987, recognized young people who are changing the world for the better, and adults who are impacting the lives of children. Hickey was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease soon after her birth in 1990 and wasn't expected to live past the age of two. Her mother found support in family friend Father Mychal Judge, who prayed with her frequently. Their prayers were answered when an innovative transplant saved the child's life. Her family gave credit to God and the prayers of Father Mychal, who remained a constant presence in their lives.
After Father Mychal was killed by falling debris near the World Trade Center on 9/11, Hickey found a way to honor his legacy of caring for the less fortunate. She requested that people celebrate her transplant anniversary by buying pairs of socks that she could donate to homeless men and women who came to the bread line at New York's St. Francis of Assisi Church where Father Mychal had lived. She also gave away a copy of the Father's prayer which reads, "Lord, take me where you want me to go / Let me meet who you want me to meet / Tell me what you want me to say / And keep me out of your way."
That first year, she collected 1,500 pairs of socks and Mychal's Message was born. Since 2002, it has served the needy in New York, Philadelphia, and Shannon's hometown, Lancaster, PA, by collecting and distributing more than 200,000 new items to homeless and disadvantaged children and adults - items such as diapers, toothpaste, underwear, hats, gloves, blankets, winter coats, teddy bears, sneakers, pencils, rosaries, and baby formula. Shannon's vision and impact earned her national recognition from President Bush and a seat at the 2007 State of the Union address. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches and financial struggles affect many Americans, Shannon's ministry continues to be of vital importance.
Previous recipients of the James Keller Award include hockey Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine for his work with disabled and critically ill children, Sesame Street's Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch puppeteer Caroll Spinney, and dance educator Jacques d'Amboise. Previous Christopher Leadership Award recipients include Peace Corps pioneer Sargent Shriver and veteran PBS executive William F. Baker.
The Christophers, a nonprofit organization, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity. The ancient Chinese proverb - "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness" - guides its publishing, radio and awards programs. More information about The Christophers is available at www.christophers.org.
SOURCE The Christophers