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Honoring the Peoria Hometown Heroes

Tickets on sale for second annual luncheon


An amazing group of community stand-outs are scheduled to be honored this month.

The Peoria Independent is hosting its second annual Peoria Hometown Heroes Awards event to salute those who make the community a special place.

Councilmember Jon Edwards as well as former Mayor Cathy Carlat and former Councilmember Vicki Hunt will be among the local dignitaries and community leaders who will attend the event, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Feb. 21, at Rio Vista Community Center, 8866 W. Thunderbird Road in Peoria. The cost is $30 for a single and $50 per couple.

To purchase tickets, go here.

Each of the past year’s recipients will be given a commemorative award during the community luncheon, which will be catered by Dillon’s KC BBQ.

For Independent Newsmedia Advertising Director Barb Wandling nothing says community like a local event hosted at a landmark community center.

“Attendees, honorees, and sponsors alike can expect a local event with something not many have: authenticity,” she said. “Each of the honorees are true local heroes who deserve to be recognized. Here at Independent Newsmedia, we are everything local and there is nothing more local than community members.”

Over the last year on a monthly basis, Independent Newsmedia featured a Hometown Hero in the Peoria Independent to recognize the people and businesses for local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community and beyond.

Here is a sneak peek of the honorees, who were nominated in 12 different unique categories.

Lifetime Achievement: After numerous decades of development and city growth, Don Bissinger’s farm still remains in the shadows of the city’s first high school and surrounding homes. He remains 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 go down that path and to “break the cycle.”

Cheerleader: Those who know George Valverde, know that when it comes to helping the community, he is never competing with anybody 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.

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.

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.

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 city council dais 2017-2018. 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.

Entrepreneur: Nick Suwyn has been spreading the good word from Peoria for a while now. In this particular instance, the good word is 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 boot camp 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.

Veteran: At 95 years old, with a lifetime of service 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.

For more information about Hometown Heroes, go here.