Riverhead Police Officer Byron Perez Courtesy photo: Riverhead CAP

The Riverhead Community Awareness Program, Inc. will sponsor its 31st annual ‘Say NO to Drugs March’ on Friday, June 10, 2016. Riverhead Police Officer Byron Perez is this year’s honored guest and keynote speaker.

Officer Perez, the son of immigrants and a 2003 graduate of Riverhead High School, has realized his American dream by becoming Riverhead’s first full-time Hispanic police officer. As part of his mission to give back to the community that has given so much to him, he became a volunteer for CAP’s Pulaski Street Elementary School Program in 2015. He teaches the monthly Life Skills lessons to a class of fifth and sixth-grade students who are new to this country, in their native Spanish language.

“We felt so lucky to have Officer Perez as our CAP presenter this year,” said Erica Peralta, Pulaski ‘s bilingual teacher. “In everything that he did – his manner of speaking, his questions, his greetings and his casual conversations with the children – Officer Perez made it clear to them that he respects and values them and their families. The children were so open to receiving the positive CAP messages from him because they genuinely feel that he believes in them and their potential to make good choices and be successful.”

She explained that the because Perez speaks to them in their own language, it gives the children “a sense of pride in their language and culture, even as they try so hard to assimilate into their new culture in the United States.”

“Officer Perez is a positive role model for all of the students, but especially for the young boys who have lost their fathers to violence or are growing up without them,” Peralta said. She added that after completing the CAP program with Perez, three-fourths of her class want to be police officers just like him.

Perez is popular with all the students at Pulaski, who enjoy seeing the young officer in their school.

“These kids are a lot smarter than we were at that age,” he observed. “They understand the negative influences out there. This program is awesome because it allows us to see how kids think and solve everyday life problems.” He enjoys trying to draw out the newer, shy students as well, and says that “seeing a kid try is the best thing you can see.”

When he was a student at Pulaski Street Elementary School, Perez participated in the CAP Program. He played varsity football while at Riverhead High School and calls his experience in the Riverhead Central School District “great.” He is proud to be able to share CAP’s message and role-play with students in their native language, the organization said in a press release.

“Officer Perez has helped us address a major barrier by allowing us to provide our program to ALL of Riverhead’s students,” said Felicia Scocozza, CAP’s executive director. “Children who suddenly find themselves in a new country and a very different culture are at increased risk for anxiety, depression and substance abuse. The CAP Life Skills program provides them with the tools and resources to better cope with these significant changes. This not only benefits the individual students, but the school and community as well.”

Following the march, there will be a brief ceremony on the steps of Pulaski Street School in which Perez will address the students and community, along with State Senator Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, members of  the Riverhead Town Board and others. After the ceremony, the Riverhead Moose Lodge will again generously serve a picnic lunch to all of the students.

Since 1983 Riverhead Community Awareness Program, Inc., a nonprofit organization, has been providing drug and alcohol prevention, education and counseling programs for the Riverhead Central School District. CAP is best known for its two-year prevention program serving over 750 fifth and sixth graders in Pulaski Street School each year. The program, taught by community volunteers and student peer leaders, concludes with the annual Say NO to Drugs March.

CAP also trains two bilingual middle school peer leaders who assist Officer Perez in the classroom.

In 2013, CAP was awarded a five-year, $625,000 Drug-Free Communities Grant through the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to increase community-based prevention strategies.

Recently a member of Governor Cuomo’s staff, the commissioner of the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Arlene González-Sánchez, held a press conference at Riverhead High School. González-Sánchez said after the program that the state chose to launch the new substance abuse prevention campaign in Riverhead “because of the great work they’re doing here [and] we’d like other school districts to look at what Riverhead is doing [about drug and alcohol abuse prevention] and do the same,”

The 31st annual ‘Say NO to Drugs March’ begins at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, June 10, 2016, in front of Pulaski Street School. The parade heads south on Roanoke Avenue, then west on Second Street, returning to Pulaski Street School via Griffing and Hallett avenues.

Source: Press release issued by Riverhead Community Awareness Program, Inc. dated May 23, 2016.

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