November 05, 2007 12:00 PM

Joseph Democko, a 24-year-old raising his troubled sister’s young children all by himself. Doris Hicks, a crusading school principal in post-Katrina New Orleans. Mark Maksimowicz and Vince and Jeff Albanese, three regular guys who have decided to devote their lives to picking up other PEOPLE’s garbage. These are just some of the everyday heroes we are celebrating in this week’s issue of PEOPLE with our annual Heroes Among Us Awards, beginning on page 102. Check out photographer Michael O’Neill’s extraordinary portraits of the winners, read tales of daring and courageous rescue, and even hear from a few of our celebrity friends what their definition of a true hero is.

It is a core part of PEOPLE’s mission to bring you these stories of heroism every week, because we believe that inspiring acts of human kindness are woven into the fabric of American life every bit as much as our tales of celebrity romance or Hollywood glamour. And we are delighted that these stories resonate with our readers. Since our story about Democko ran in July, for example, readers have donated $35,000 to the young man; one even offered to pay his rent for the year.

It is always our hope that our stories move you to get involved—in your neighborhood, at your child’s school, in politics or at your place of worship or wherever your passions lead. For what do all our heroes have in common? A refusal to take no for an answer. As Hicks said of her battle to reopen her school in the Lower Ninth Ward, “I felt I had to do something.”

Tune in to CBS’s The Early Show from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 for profiles of this year’s heroes; you can watch clips at To read PEOPLE’s original stories, go to http://WWW.PEOPLE.COM/HEROESAMONGUS

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