It’s a blow to the ongoing revitalization effort in Riverside.
Seasoned community organizer Siris Barrios of Riverside Rediscovered, who for five years has worked with residents, community organizations and local officials on behalf of master developer Renaissance Downtowns to move the revitalization forward, is leaving her post at the end of this month.
Barrios, a Hampton Bays resident, is moving with her family to Ecuador, her husband Jose’s native land, to help operate a family farm that produces dragon fruit, or pitahaya, a tropical fruit originating in the Ecuadoran Amazon. She will be running the family’s exporting business there.
It’s a sea change in terms of lifestyle for Barrios, who moved to New York from California and her young family.
“It’s going to be a big adjustment for all of us,” she said in an interview last night. “It’s a very different lifestyle. We’ll have more time with family that we don’t have here and will be able to spend more time together raising our children,” she said.
“We’ve had this conversation since the day we met,” Barrios said. “He’s always wanted to raise his family in Ecuador.”
The Flanders, Northampton and Riverside Community Association recognized Barrios at its meeting last night. It was an emotional farewell.
FRNCA board president Vince Taldone credited Barrios with expanding the reach of the civic group and being “pretty relentless” about community organizing “but always with a smile.”
Taldone said Barrios has been universally embraced by members of the community and government officials alike.
“No one ever actually got angry at her,” he observed. “She’s welcome in every office with every person because she speaks from the heart. She’s genuine,” he said. “While she works for a developer, I don’t think anyone here would disagree that she works for us as a community member.”
Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman also attended the meeting specifically, “to say goodbye to Siris, for all you’ve done here,” he said.
“You really have changed this place in a fundamental way,” Schneiderman said, addressing Barrios directly, as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Whether fighting for the money for the circle or finding out what the community wanted…This area will be forever changed by your work,” the supervisor said.
Sean McLean of Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer hired by the Town of Southampton several years ago to lead in the revitalization effort, also grew emotional as he reflected on Barrios’ work in the community.
“My own personal growth in this industry – recognizing how to work with a community and how to move things along — has been spectacular,” McLean said.
Despite the establishment of a sewer district taking longer than the developer hoped, and despite the developer not yet breaking ground on any construction, Barrios’ work and the community group’s work has kept “all the elected officials positive about the future going forward,” McLean said.
“The community is in a better place than it was five years ago because of this work,” he said.
“When I moved here because I got married, I was upset about leaving California,” Barrios said. “It was hard. But this is much more difficult because you guys have become my family,” she said.
“Even though this is a very diverse room in terms of politics, we have always been able to come together for one vision. That’s always been my biggest challenge in community organizing. Usually you’re preaching to the choir,” she said. “This was completely different.”
Barrios said her work in Riverside helped her grow as a person, to learn to “really understand where people of other viewpoints are coming from.”
The people in the Riverside community have come together despite diverse backgrounds, cultures and political affiliations, she said.
“Let’s continue this work. Let’s keep holding our elected officials accountable. Let’s keep holding Renaissance accountable,” Barrios urged the group. “Without the people in this room, nothing’s going to happen. If we let our guards down, if we become silent, nothing’s going to happen,” she said.
“Thank you for helping me grow.Thank you for giving me so much love.”
McLean announced to the group that Angela Huneault, a part-time Renaissance community liaison who has worked with Barrios on Riverside Rediscovered, will be stepping into a full-time role upon Barrios’ departure.
A Flanders native, Huneault is also vice president of the FRNCA board.
“Angela is very familiar with the project and has a great relationship with Sepa Mujer and the Children’s Museum of the East End,” Barrios said in an interview, referring to two organizations Riverside Rediscovered has partnered with on community programs in Riverside.
“Angela will keep it going,” Barrios said.
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