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Local hero has difficulty accepting recognition

September 28, 2011 | 07:42 AM
Sal Dimiceli may very well not win the CNN Hero of the Year and $250,000 for his Time Is Now organization.

But one thing is certain — he is my hero and he should be a hero for many others and this community as a whole.

It was many years ago when I first met Sal. The Time Is Now column was already running in the Regional News and I had become editor. He didn't know me and he wanted to make sure we were still on board to print his weekly letters. At that time, it was still unknown how big this would all get.

Sal was anonymous the first few years. We knew who he was, but we weren't supposed to reveal his identity no matter who asked. That's how Sal wanted it and we obliged. Sal went even as far as having just his hand appear in photos on picture pages run in the Regional News thanking those who had donated to the Time Is Now.

There also was a time when Sal apparently stopped his vehicle and asked a teenage girl who was walking home from school if she needed some winter clothing. Apparently the girl didn't have appropriate cold weather clothes and Sal was just trying to help. It turned out, once the girl reached home, the police were called because of "the man" who stopped his vehicle to talk to her.

The school even sent home letters about the situation and told parents to keep a watch out. When we heard of the incident, we reported on it. We didn't know it was Sal, until we saw in the police report the description of the vehicle. There was no mistaking it was Sal. I called him to tell him what had happened. He said it was him who talked to the girl and he had no idea police were called.

But, while it was one of the costs of being anonymous at the time, it was also the moment any questions I had about his desire and motives to help anyone and everyone left my mind. From that day forward, my belief in his effort has never wavered.

A few years ago, I remember him calling me and saying that he would remain anonymous no longer. I was thankful because as the Time Is Now was growing, it was becoming more difficult to keep it hidden. Incidents like the one with the girl didn't help that either.

With the urging of some of his biggest supporters, Sal made the choice to be the face of the Time Is Now. After all, he founded the organization and had helped people for years.

So, suddenly, after years of anonymity, he appeared in pictures in the Regional News, talked to organizations about the Time Is Now and put a face with the person who was writing the letters and helping the local people.

Now, years later, Sal's effort has received international recognition through the CNN Heroes. He is one of the top 10 remaining Heroes for 2011 and he definitely has a chance to bring home $250,000 for those in the area in need.

Sal is one of those people you meet very rarely. There's an energy when he's in the room that can't be ignored. When he speaks, it's difficult to not hang on his every word. He is full of emotion and passion.

But, I'm sure some people who don't know him probably question his motives. They say he's doing this for publicity or to profit in his own business.

I have known the truth for much longer than any of those people. The truth is, Sal would be happier without any of this fame. He would prefer not to have film crews follow him around or do interviews with a camera and microphone in his face.

To this day, I believe he would rather be anonymously helping those who are poverty stricken.

All he really wants to do, with or without anyone knowing, is help those less fortunate. He wants to bring relief to those single mothers and elderly people who are struggling to pay for their basic needs. He wants to talk with them, bring comfort to them and then do all he can to help them.

No matter what happens with the results of the CNN Hero of the year for 2011, Dimiceli isn't going to change who he is or what he does on a daily basis. That's just one of his qualities that make him a hero to so many of us.

Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.

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