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2017 Person of the Year: Byron Perez

Riverhead resident Byron Perez dons the navy blue uniform of a Riverhead Town police officer by day. Mr. Perez, who was hired in December 2014, is the department’s first full-time Hispanic officer. Speaking fluent Spanish, he has been working on bridging the gap between local law enforcement and the town’s growing Hispanic population.

But his work with the police force isn’t his only contribution to the town he’s lived in his entire life.

In 2015, he joined Riverhead Community Awareness Program and led its “Say No To Drugs” march at Pulaski Street School that year.

The 2003 Riverhead High School graduate is also a member of the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force and joined the district’s Board of Education this summer following the resignation of two former board members. Mr. Perez, 33, also co-created a bilingual soccer league for kids in the Riverhead community this spring.

“He’s more than a positive role model and gives that positive message,” said Dave Densieski, principal at Pulaski Street Elementary School. “He’s so willing to give back and take his positivity and knowledge and love for the community and just pour it out onto the kids. It’s phenomenal.”

For his dedication to the Riverhead community, both within his job and outside of it, Mr. Perez is the Riverhead News-Review’s 2017 Person of the Year.

Police Chief David Hegermiller noted how the addition of Mr. Perez helped the department, as he was able to communicate with the growing Spanish-speaking community.

“He’s top-notch,” Chief Hegermiller said. “He’s really done a great job getting out and being in the community and helping the community, especially the Hispanic community … he’s very much out there. He had a program with the kids on Sundays that he developed with a teacher from the [Riverhead] school district. But more than that, he’s telling [the kids] this could be you.”

The soccer program is one of numerous ways Mr. Perez has gotten involved in the school district in recent years.

As a member of CAP, Mr. Perez often visits fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms as part of their substance abuse prevention education program. Guest speakers, such as Mr. Perez, communicate to the students the value of community. Other self-help topics, including bullying, are also discussed.

“Byron is a leader of the future,” Mr. Densieski said. “I’m one of the people who recommended him to get on the board. I thought he was a great choice. We need really good, solid people who are level-headed to come in and take leadership positions. He’s just a solid citizen and he’s great to have around. He’s always positive with a smile on his face.”

Mr. Perez was one of 12 residents to apply for two vacant board positions this summer, left open by the June vacancies of veteran school board members Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Amelia Lantz.

Current school board president Greg Meyer commended the efforts of Mr. Perez and Ron Fisher, who also joined the board to fill the second vacancy, calling the men a “real valuable asset to the board.”

“I didn’t know either of them prior to them being on the board and I’m very grateful for the things they’ve already dove head-first into,” Mr. Meyer said. “They try and improve the best they can for the kids of the district and I’m thrilled with that. It’s been a really great fit.”

In an interview in August, Mr. Perez said he gets so involved in his community because he wants to continue to serve the town he’s lived in for his entire life.

“I feel like the students are our future,” he said. “To put my efforts in to help them have a bright future, that’s pretty cool to me.”

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Previous Winners

2016: Tijuana Fulford
2015: Steve Beal, Kevin Burgess, Anthony Chiaramonte and J.R. Renten
2014: The Shoreham-Wading River football team
2013: Michael Hubbard
2012: Denise Lucas
2011: Laurie Nigro, Amy Davidson
2010: Linda Hobson
2009: Chris Kempner
2008: Riverhead Blue Waves
2007: Maureen’s Haven
2006: Sister Margaret Smyth
2005: Alan Shields
2004: Phil Cardinale
2003: Vince Tria
2002: Bryan Tressler
2001: Annie Jackson
2000: Judy Young
1999: Members of the First Congregational Church
1998: Eileen Miller
1997: Vinny Villella
1996: Vic Prusinowski
1995: Pat Stark
1994: Sonny Okula, Jim Kane
1993: Jack Van de Wetering
1992: Bobby Goodale
1991: Joe Janoski
1990: Robert Tooker
1989: Jim & Connie Lull
1988: Jesse Goodale