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While we are honoring these specific youths, we also recognize that they really are representative of a much larger group of young people doing good things in their schools and communities.

INDEPENDENT GRAPHIC - Amazing Kid Rafael Vasquez Lopez (center) and the 24 other nominees from the Woodburn area are great examples of amazing leadership among local youth.If anyone ever had any fears about the future of Oregon, they need only to peruse the following pages of today's issue, or the special section from the Pamplin Media Group inserted in today's paper.

Three years ago, our staff set out on a mission to find outstanding children in our community. Because of the stories we regularly publish, we already knew there was a deep reservoir of talented and committed young people from which we could draw.

What we didn't anticipate, however, was just how talented and committed these Amazing Kids would be. The quality of the nominations we received that first year — and every year since then — exceeded our expectations and gave us assurance that the children in school today have the compassion and ability necessary to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Now, with our fourth annual Amazing Kids section, we still can't get enough of the high caliber of young people living in and serving northern Marion County.

We found children who are working to fight hunger. We found exemplary students who aren't content to be classroom stars unless they also can help their peers do better in school. We discovered young people with the desire to improve their community, whether it's reading to a special education classroom, mentoring young athletes by organizing a wrestling camp or canvassing for a cause they believe in, even though they themselves are too young to vote.

We could only choose one out of 25 students nominated this year to represent Woodburn in today's special section and at a gala event in Portland this week. We chose Rafael Vasquez Lopez, a senior at Academy of International Studies, for his seemingly endless list of community service activities, his unmatched determination to succeed in academics and wrestling, and his humble attitude toward life, despite many struggles.

But we had 24 other outstanding nominees whose efforts shouldn't go unrecognized. These Amazing Kids are not only honored on the following pages, but also at a reception this week, hosted by Chemeketa Community College Woodburn Center, which has partnered with the Woodburn Independent on this endeavor from the start. The project would not be possible without the support of Chemeketa and other community sponsors.

It also would not be possible without you, our readers, who nominated these young people. The Woodburn area has proven time and time again that it supports and cherishes its youth, and this project is just one way in which that has been made apparent. So thank you, too, for your support of the next generation.

While we are honoring these specific youths, we also recognize that they really are representative of a much larger group of young people doing good things in their schools and communities. We hope to honor even more next year.

And that's what really should give everyone an optimistic outlook for the future. These kids are truly amazing — and there are many more out there just like them.

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