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CHAMPAIGN — Hundreds of people packed a conference room at the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday to salute the young entrepreneurs, professionals and community service workers who make up News-Gazette Media’s 12th Forty Under 40 group.

The 2019 Woman of the Year, Giselle Rodriguez of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in her speech that the award brought affirmation after coming to Champaign from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, to pursue her master’s degree.

“Never in a million years, dreaming about my future on my long bus rides to school, did I imagine that I would be here today,” she said. “This award is very special to me because it feels like it is the ultimate confirmation that I’m not a stranger to this place anymore — that I do belong, and that this is home.”

Both she and Man of the Year Salvo Rodriquez, the director of new business and campaign development for the United Way of Champaign County, urged those in attendance to give back to their community.

“I want to ... (encourage) everyone here today to consider volunteering just two hours a month,” he said. “While the impact of this commitment may seem small, I can assure you that it’ll mean the world to someone who will benefit from your generosity and your service.”