27 East, September 11th, 2014 | Growing up in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood, Siris Barrios learned about the struggles and triumphs that come with blue-collar work. She began volunteering in her hometown when she was 16, working with local youths and neighbors by bringing programs and revitalization efforts to the area. “We worked with residents to deal with the real issues,” Ms. Barrios said at her new office at 108 Peconic Avenue in Riverside, Renaissance Downtowns’ new base of operations for its “Riverside Rediscovered” initiative. “I’ve been searching for an organization out here where I could really use my skills—and I think I’ve found it.”
The 35-year-old mother now lives in Hampton Bays with her husband, Jose Leon, and their 18-month-old son, Alejandro. As a new mom, Ms. Barrios, who moved to Hampton Bays in 2011, said she was content staying at home until she saw the ad for the community liaison position for Renaissance Downtowns, the master development company behind Riverside Rediscovered. Ms. Barrios, whose resume boasts community projects completed and youth groups created in Los Angeles, began working full time earlier this month and has been assisting Sean McLean, the vice president of planning and development for the Riverside project.
They are researching past revitalization projects and preparing the company’s website, www.riversiderediscov ered.com , so community members can register and share their ideas.
Still, Ms. Barrios, who has always had an interest in bringing residents together to improve their community, said she wants to remain behind the scenes during the revitalization project. “I’m not looking to be the voice of the community,” she said. “I’m looking to raise the voice of the community. I’m here to bring everyone together to empower and support them, so that they can put their vision for Riverside forward.” The first community gathering for Riverside Rediscovered was held in May, during a Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Community Association meeting, when more than 75 residents shared their initial comments and chose the name for the revitalization project.
Renaissance Downtowns has one year to put together an action plan to present to the Southampton Town Board, which should include a list of potential projects and developments that the community would like to see. Ms. Barrios noted that she saw the advertisement for the community liaison position almost two years ago, when Renaissance was starting up a separate project in Huntington Station. “I remember seriously considering it,” she said. “Then, when I saw it again for Riverside, I knew I had to apply. I really think my experience in LA will resonate with the Riverside community.”
Ms. Barrios said she has knocked on a handful of doors so far to introduce herself to residents and business owners. Over the next two weeks, her goal is to meet with as many businesses, community groups, nonprofits and religious groups as possible in order to get a better sense of the community. Then, she said, she’s going to knock on doors and meet those who live in Riverside to both introduce herself and ask their opinion about what they envision for the future of their hamlet.
“This project is going to require me to put on my tennis shoes and get everyone’s input,” she said. “I’m not afraid to do that.” Vince Taldone, the president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, met with Ms. Barrios earlier this month. “Siris comes to us with terrific community organizing skills and experience, and I am confident that she will help make this project a great success for Riverside and its neighboring communities,” Mr. Taldone wrote in an email last week. Mr. McLean noted that Ms.
Barrios has a unique experience that he believes will resonate with those residing in Riverside. “A lot of dynamics will come into play here, and I think Siris will do a terrific job,” he said. Ms. Barrios plans to attend future Flanders Citizens Advisory Committee and FRNCA meetings, and also encourages hamlet residents with questions to stop in at her new office at 108 Peconic Avenue between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.