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Miami's Roberto Perez to be honored at the White House next week

Miami's Roberto Perez, who heads an organization that promotes literacy around the world, will be awarded the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor. President Barack Obama will award the medal to Perez and 12 others at an Oct. 20 ceremony at the White House.

"This year's recipients of the Citizens Medal come from different backgrounds, but they share a commitment to a cause greater than themselves," Obama said in a statement. "They exemplify the best of what it means to be an American, and I am honored to be able to offer them a small token of our appreciation."

As President of Alfalit, a non-profit organization combating illiteracy, Robert Perez has led the charge for fighting illiteracy from Africa to South America, according to a White House biography. As a result, 7 million people have learned to read in 22 countries in the Americas, Africa, and Europe. 

Perez previously worked as a Miami-Dade County social worker and as an ordained Methodist pastor who counseled prison inmates and recovering alcoholics. He'll receives the medal "for his passion and work on behalf of the less fortunate around the globe," the White House said.

Alfalit was started to spread literacy in Latin America and has spread to Africa and Portugal. It began in 1961 by Cuban exiles and an American missionary who was kicked off the island by Fidel Castro. They moved their charity to Miami in 1975. Alfalit’s program is to teach simple words to encourage the illiterate to read even more -- and develop a bigger vocabulary. The U.S. government is one of the charities biggest supporters, helping fund programs throughout the world for pennies on the dollar. The Rotary Club International is also a big sponsor.

Former First Lady Laura Bush, a literacy supporter, invited Alfalit to the White House in 2006. She also toured the charity’s operations in Liberia with her husband.

The Citizens Medal was established in 1969 to recognize American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens. The White House said Obama is recognizing Americans this year whose work has had a significant impact on their communities -- but may not have garnered national attention.