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Hometown Heroes Awards

Peoria Heroes honored for exemplary work in the community


The second annual Peoria Hometown Heroes Awards luncheon took center stage, Feb. 21, as 12 individuals who either work or live in the city were honored for their service to the community.

Family, friends, Peoria City Council members and residents of the community came out to pay their respects to the hard-workingHeroes who have made Peoria a great place, many of whom have dedicated decades to the community and made it what it is today.

Councilmember Jon Edwards spoke and Independent Newsmedia President and CEO Charlene Bisson opened the event.

Video interviews of the Heroes were produced by members of the city’s communications team and shown at the event.

Peoria Independent News Editor Philip Haldiman presented the awards to the 12 Heroes.

“The well of amazing people in Peoria is deep, and this event only barely touches the surface,” he said. “We look forward to seeing this event into the future because there are still yet many people doing great things for this city.”

Peoria Unified Superintendent Jason Reynolds, Police Chief Art Miller, Councilmembers Brad Shafer and Jennifer Crawford, as well as former Mayor Cathy Carlat and former Councilmember Vicki Hunt attended the event.

The following Hometown Heroes were honored.

Entrepreneur: Nick Suwyn has been spreading the good word from Peoria for a while now. In this instance, the good word is computer coding. It is the language of the modern age, and Suwyn’s entrepreneurial spirit has planted it in a workforce where the demand for knowledgeable coders is very real.

Promineo Tech, the company he founded, is improving the bootcamp model and providing an education-as-a-service platform that has grown to about 35 colleges across the country, with plans to expand into every state, and in the process, put Peoria on the map.

Leader of Tomorrow: Maylee Acosta’s passion for service came at a young age at Sundance Elementary School when she would ask her teachers if they needed help during recess or lunch time. The passion continued into young adulthood, when she served with Councilor Jon Edwards on the council dais 2017-18. Edwards said she is the epitome of a strongly principled young woman and has a bright future ahead of her.

“Nothing seemed too big for her, and she followed through on every commitment she made,” Edwards said.

Volunteer: Over the years, Mike Heath has dedicated countless hours to various committees at the city of Peoria, Peoria Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and numerous officer positions for nonprofits. He is the current president of the Wickenburg Area Habitat for Humanity and a volunteer for Benevilla. His time given to the community are gifts not only to current residents but gifts to the future of Peoria.

Veteran: At 95 years old, with a lifetime of service and volunteerism under his belt, Norman Palmer has a wealth of stories to share. Whether as a merchant marine, a boy scout leader, or a retired volunteer, Palmer is a testament to American history in the 20th Century and into the new millennium. As one of the last living people who served in World War II, he is an important first-person connection to America’s past and a carrier of truth in this modern society.

Mentor: As a warden at the Adobe Mountain Juvenile Corrections Center for almost 30 years, Elmar Cobos said he saw the “worst of the worst.” But, now as a Peoria High School transition specialist in the special education department, he is challenging kids not to go down that path and to “break the cycle.”

Cheerleader: Those who know George Valverde know  when it comes to helping the community, he is never competing with anyone because his endeavors come from the heart. This local restaurant owner is using his love for food and outreach to make the surrounding community a better place to live.

Spiritual: Joe Eriquez formed Heart For The City in 2006 and has been committed to helping meet the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of children and families, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods. He has been instrumental in putting countless kids on the path to God and being productive members of society.

Emergency Responder: Over the years, Peoria Police officer Beth Griffin has kept adding to her tool belt, from her service as a school resource officer for Sunrise Mountain High School to her newest assignment in the domestic violence unit. The community is lucky to have somebody so well prepared to protect and serve.

Educator: David “Skinny” Hill has been a teacher in Peoria for 40 years, from its existence as a farm town to its emergence as a modern Arizona city. During that time he has not stopped building confidence in students at Peoria High School, preparing them for what the world has to offer.

Health Care: Teri and Patrick Caserta experienced harrowing tragedy at the loss of their son who served in the U.S. Navy. But they have also won a victory in bringing access to mental health to all the Armed Forces through the passage of the landmark Brandon Act.

Trailblazer: Chris Hamby’s Theater Works production of the immersive “Curiouser & Curiouser” not only kept the theater’s doors open during the pandemic, but showed how innovation and creativity can sustain in the arts. This local theater company has been a staple of Peoria for many years, and stands to continue such a progression under the guidance of Hamby.

Lifetime Achievement: After being surrounded by decades of development and growth, Don Bissinger’s farm remains in the shadows of the city’s first high school and surrounding homes. He is one of the last farm owners in the city, contributing to the local economy over many years, while educating students at Peoria High School all the while.

Special thanks to sponsors premier lunch sponsor Dillon’s Kansas City BBQ, Nothing Bundt Cakes, TYR Tactical, Benevilla, Black Rock Coffee Bar, Rubio’s Coastal Grill, The Links Neighborhood Grill, Whataburger, Grease Monkey/Gorilla Car Wash, Squid Ink Sushi, Stretch Lab, Lucky’s Pizza, Super Clips Hair Salon, Touchdown Sports and Yoga Six.

Independent Newsmedia is the publisher of 20 community newspapers, Sun Life Magazine and the Daily Independent at YourValley.net.

For information about Hometown Heroes Awards, go here.

We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.