(CNN) — Efren Peñaflorida, who started a “pushcart classroom” in the Philippines to provide an alternative to gang membership and bring education to poor children who are scavenging in landfills, has been named the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper unveiled Peñaflorida as the winner of the most online votes 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, will air on Thanksgiving, November 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the global networks of CNN.
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.”
Watch Efren’s moving story from CNN, featured on the Good News Network during the voting period, and watch the Gala winner’s speech below. And, watch the entire award ceremony on CNN, featuring all the Hero stories, tomorrow night after your Thanksgiving dinner.